18,000 - 16,000
In what we know today as southwestern France, Paleolithic hunter- years ago gatherers paint and engrave the walls and ceilings of a cave with symbols and images of animals.
Four local boys explore a deep depression by a fallen tree in the woods near Montignac, France and after clearing away debris, discover a shaft leading to an underground chamber. They descend into the cave with an oil lantern. The youngest boy, Jacques Marsal, remarks later, “We saw a cavalcade of animals larger than life painted on the walls and ceiling of the cave. Each animal seemed to be moving.” (Marsal devotes the rest of his life to the cave, working as chief guide until his death in 1989.) As word of the paintings spreads, famed pre-historian Henri Breuil examines them and confirms their authenticity and age.
Daily tours of the cave attract thousands of visitors each year. One famous tourist, Pablo Picasso, is said to remark in awed humility after seeing the paintings, “We [contemporary artists] have learned nothing.”
The cave is closed to the public after signs of deterioration appear, caused by carbon dioxide from the breath of visitors.
The Lascaux cave and several other painted caves in the area are designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After 11 years of work by local artist Monique Peytral and other painters and sculptors, Lascaux II opens near the original cave. It features replications of some of the paintings and becomes a popular tourist destination.
In October, 2012, a new exhibition on the Lascaux cave paintings opens in Bordeaux, France. It features high-tech replications of many of the paintings, including some never before seen by the public. The exhibition then travels from France to Chicago. Scenes from the Stone Age: The Cave Paintings of Lascaux, makes its North American premiere March 20, 2013, at The Field Museum.