Air Recirculation System - Installed in 1968, the air recirculation system was designed to work in passive concert with Lascaux’s natural air flow and was only needed during the wettest seasons of the year. When operational, the system mimicked the cave’s natural currents pulling the air to a cold point causing condensation to form there rather than on the walls of the cave.
After several early crises in the cave, the first scientific commission conducted careful, in-depth studies of the cave’s interior climate. The result was the design and installation of the passive convection system which served Lascaux very well from 1968 until 2000.
Artists 17,000 Years Ago - The artists who created the beautiful paintings in Lascaux lived in Europe during the finals years of the last Ice Age, c. 18,000 to 10,000 BP. They belonged to a group of people known as the Magdalenians who were homo sapiens (modern humans) and hunter-gathers.
Calcite - A common crystalline form of natural calcium carbonate found in marble, chalk and limestone.
In Lascaux, an existing layer of calcite over some of the cave walls offered the prehistoric artists a white and highly reflective, prickly surface on which to paint. In this case, the calcite was advantageous for the original artists and for the viewer as it gives brilliance to the paintings. However, when moisture condenses over the painted walls (created by interior destabilization in the cave) it can also create a veil of white calcite which grows to progressively cover the paintings and entire walls of the cave.
Early Crisis - Lascaux opened to the public in 1948 drawing very large crowds. The first signs of deterioration in the cave were noticed a few years later in 1955. The culprit: excessive amounts of carbon dioxide produced by the high number of visitors. Later, after the installation of the first air conditioning system, Lascaux suffered from proliferation of algae (The Green Sickness) and from calcite forming over the paintings (The White Sickness). The cave was then closed to the public in 1963.
The Minister of Culture, Andre Malraux, appointed the first scientific commission to study the cave and find remedies to protect its future. Under the guidance of the first scientific commission, Lascaux recovers and is stabilized for the next twenty-five years until a new oversized and ill-conceived air machine is installed in the cave disturbing its internal climate.
First Scientific Commission - In 1963, responding to the first crisis threatening Lascaux, Minister of Culture, Andre Malraux, appointed the commission to “….study the changes inside the cave, find remedies and bring the cave back to stable conditions”. The commission conducted careful, in-depth studies of the cave’s interior climate. The result was the design and installation of the passive convection system which served Lascaux very well from 1968 until its removal in 2000.
Any one of the members of the thallophyte division such as mushrooms, molds
and mildews, who subsist on dead or living organic matter.
Fusarium Solani - A very common and virulent mold found in agricultural environments which infects both soil and crops. It is highly resistant to treatment and often entire crop fields must be turned under and burned to eradicate the disease.
Gregomatic - A powerful water based vacuum cleaner used as a washing, rinsing and suction system. For more information http://www.gregomatic.com/
ICPL - The International Committee for the Preservation of Lascaux is dedicated to preserving the original, prehistoric paintings in the cave of Lascaux. The ICPL works to raise public awareness of the rapid deterioration of the cave and its irreplaceable art; to initiate public action in efforts to safeguard Lascaux for future generations and to actively engage professionals from all fields of conservation in the preservation of the cave and its paintings.
It is our belief that the art of Lascaux is a legacy belonging to all mankind. The cave’s discovery in 1940 redefined what was previously known about our creative development as human beings and our ability to construct image from abstract thought. This critical leap, and its resulting tangible evidence, is invaluable to understanding our global human heritage.
LRMH - France ’s Research Laboratory of Historical Monuments was created by Minister of Culture Andre Malraux in response to the first Lascaux conservation’s crisis in 1963. In 2000, The LRMH, responsible for monitoring Lascaux’s biological condition, made no inspections during construction work done in connection with installing the new ill-conceived and disastrous air circulation system.
Molds - A fungus growth usually producing decay or disintegration of organic matter.
Quicklime - Calcium oxide (CaO), commonly known as lime, quicklime or burnt lime, is a widely used chemical compound. It is a white, caustic and alkaline crystalline solid, as well as a refractory and dehydrating agent.
In 2001, in an attempt to kill the fungus Fusarium Solani inside Lascaux, authorities poured four tons of quicklime on the cave's floor. This created a rise in the cave’s internal temperature and quickly destabilized the interior hydrometric balance of the cave. These higher temperatures dried up the air of the cave causing moisture to form on the cave's walls; the moisture washed off some of the prehistoric pigments.
Painting Techniques - The prehistoric artists painted with brushes made from animal or human hair and from plant stems. Pieces of organic pigment were used as crayons to draw on the rock walls. For dabbing and sponging applications they used animal fur, vegetable fibers and pieces of leather. Ground pigment was also sprayed, either directly from the mouth or through tubes, to create dots, hand stencils and shaping. Stone tools were used to create engravings which greatly out number paintings in prehistory.
Prehistoric Pigments - The Magdalenians painted with colors ground from minerals in the earth. They used mainly iron oxides like ochres to produce reds, yellows, oranges and browns; manganese for blacks and grays; and black ochre for rich black earth color.
Scientific Committee of Lascaux - Formed in 2002 by Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, current Minister of Culture, to study the crisis in Lascaux and offer recommendations. The Committee which includes several scientists meets approximately twice a year and produces a report not made available to the public.
The decision making process is still in the hands of the bureaucrats responsible for Lascaux’s current debacle:
Philippe Oudin, the architect who selected and installed the disastrous new air system,
Jean –Michel Geneste, curator of the Lascaux cave, who accepted the plans,
Isabelle Pallot- Frossard, the director of the Laboratory of Historic Monuments, who made no inspections of the cave during the construction work.
Danny Barrault, administrative director of the archaelogy department of Aquitaine, who authorized the funding.
“How a committee so constituted can arrive at unbiased answers is “a good question," admits Marc Gauthier, an expert on the Gallo-Roman era, and the committee’s chairman. (TIME)
The ICPL asks why none of the scientists involved in the design of the original air system, which maintained the equilibrium of the cave for the past 40 years, have been included in the committee.