Re-imagined Lascaux Cave set to open

The original Lascaux Cave was closed down in 1963. Photo / Wikimedia Commons
The original Lascaux Cave was closed down in 1963. Photo / Wikimedia Commons

It's an old irony: we often destroy what we enjoy most. Take the Lascaux Cave, the site of 17,000-year-old Stone Age paintings, a place sometimes called the "Sistine Chapel of Prehistory." Over time, so many visitors entered to admire it that their exhalations caused mould to grow on the walls, damaging the paintings.

The cave was closed down in 1963, thereafter off-limits to the public and accessible only occasionally to visiting scholars.

A partial replica, Lascaux II, was built at the same site in Montignac in Dordogne province, with facsimile paintings of the Paleolithic originals. Now more than 30 years old, this site too has suffered the same kind of damage as the real thing and has needed refurbishment.

Enter Lascaux IV: This ambitious project is a reconstruction of the original cave at a cost of about 60 million euros ($99.6 million). For the first time the entire grotto with its more than 1900 animal paintings is being reproduced.

This is a huge undertaking. The figures painted by the Cro-Magnon humans using natural pigments and the engraved rock images were of astonishing quality and precision, and the same effort is needed for the reproductions.

The idea for the new replica goes back to early 2000.

"With the new facsimile we hope to distribute the flow of visitors better," says Nicolas Platon, the official in charge of cultural sites in the Dordogne. The Lascaux IV replica is about 500 metres away from the original cave as well as from the first replica.

Lascaux IV is spectacular, even if at the moment it is still a construction site. There is a huge concrete block, part of it buried below the earth, a smaller portion jutting above the surface.

The replica is officially called "Centre International de l'Art parital Montignac-Lascaux" - international centre for cave paintings. Besides the actual replica, part of the 8500sq m facility is dedicated to scholarly work about prehistoric art and about the history of Lascaux.

More than 25 artists have been working on reproducing the animal pictures for more than three years now.

So, how do you create an imitation cave? First, you scan the original one - its walls, ceilings and floors - then feed the dimensional data into a computer that creates a 3D image of the original.

Then you use steel and acrylic resin to build the new cave down to the last millimetre, carefully painting and engraving the surface to make it resemble the original. Next come the actual animal paintings in their exact positions in the original Lascaux cave.

Lascaux IV is scheduled to open on December 15, 2016. The new replica arrives just over a year after completion of a replica of another famed Stone Age French cave, the Grotte Chauvet Pont d'Arc, where animal paintings 37,000 years old are on the walls.

- AAP

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