Your cultural guide to the 2023 Tour de France Femmes: stage 3

In today's episode, José Been takes us inside the stunning Lascaux Caves.

One of the reproduced paintings inside Lascaux II. (Image: Jack Versloot/Wikimedia Commons)

For every stage of the 2023 Tour de France – men’s and women’s – José Been is bringing you stories about the history, castles, geology, culture, food, and people around the race. A bit of couleur locale while you enjoy lush fields of sunflowers, beautiful mountains, and pretty little villages, oh, and the bike race too.

Today we race to Montignac-Lascaux. I know the name Montignac from a 1990s diet craze where you could eat carbs and fat and drink wine. This has nothing to do with the town of Montignac by the way although our local specialties do involve lots of meat, fat, and probably wine too. 

Near Montignac is the town of Lascaux. It is the site of some world-famous caves. These caves are renowned for their prehistoric paintings, which are estimated to be over 17,000 years old. The paintings depict a variety of animals like horses, bison, and deer. There are also abstract symbols and human-like figures.

The discovery of the Lascaux Caves occurred in 1940 when a group of young boys stumbled upon the entrance. In early September of that year, Marcel Ravidat discovered a hole in the hill of Lascaux. He returned to the site on September 12 with his friends Georges, Simon, and Jacques. The four young men enlarged the hole and managed to slip inside. There, with only a lamp as lighting, they were the first Homo Sapiens to see the paintings left by our Cro-Magnon ancestors.

The caves were opened to the public in 1948, but the continuous flow of visitors (1,500 per day) and the carbon dioxide from human breath began to degrade the prehistoric paintings in the decorated cave.

To allow continued access to the art, an exact replica of the caves, known as Lascaux II, was created nearby and opened to visitors in 1983. It faithfully reproduces the paintings and the intricate details of the cave interior. Lascaux II offers visitors an opportunity to experience and appreciate the ancient artwork while preserving the original caves.

There is now also Lascaux IV, also known as the International Center for Cave Art, for an even more-immersive experience. It was inaugurated in December 2016. It incorporates advanced technology to replicate the caves in a highly realistic manner. This includes 3D reproductions and interactive exhibits that provide a deeper understanding of the art and the lives of the prehistoric people who created it.

The paintings at Lascaux are considered some of the finest examples of Paleolithic art, providing valuable insights into the lives and beliefs of our ancient ancestors. The artists used a variety of techniques, such as applying pigments with brushes, spraying through a tube, and blowing pigment onto the walls. The attention to detail and the sophisticated use of color and shading indicate the artistic skills of these early humans.

While the art of the decorated caves is the most spectacular and the most well known, Cro-Magnon people also left numerous tools and practical objects which can be seen in the National Museum of Prehistory of Les Eyzies.

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