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December 15, 2018

France: Lascaux IV

Inside Lascaux IV’s above ground exhibit

On September 12, 1940, 18-year-old Marcel Ravidat discovered the entrance to the Lascaux Cave near the village of Montignac, in the department of Dordogne in southwestern France. Ravidat returned later with three friends, Jacques Marsal, Georges Agnel, and Simon Coencas, and entered the cave via a long shaft. The teenagers discovered an extensive cave with numerous depictions of animals. Ultimately over 600 wall paintings covering the sides and ceilings of several chambers were discovered.

The cave paintings turned out to be very old, showing depictions of large animals corresponding to the fossil records of the Upper Paleolithic time. Scientific studies later estimated that Lascaux’s cave art was created around 17,000 years ago.

After the end of World War II the Lascaux Cave became a popular tourist destination. That was unfortunately its downfall. By 1955, the carbon dioxide, heat, humidity, and the other contaminants produced by 1,200 visitors a day had damaged the paintings. Consequently in 1963 the cave was closed to the public. Though the cave art was restored to its original state and a monitoring system was introduced large-scale tourist visits to the cavern would not be restored.

The outside of Lascaux IV is very modern.

To accommodate the tourist demand Lascaux II, an exact copy of Lascaux’s Great Hall of the Bulls and the Painted Gallery, was built. It opened near the original cave in 1983 two decades after Lascaux was closed. The reproduction of the cave was a compromise. It is an attempt to present an impression of the scale and composition of Lascaux’s paintings to the public without doing the original harm to the original.

Lascaux II proved popular and in December of 2016 was superseded by Lascaux IV, an ultra-modern museum with an artificial cavern that seeks to reproduce the experience of going underground and visiting the original cave.

Visitors see the inside of Lascaux IV’s cave on organized tours. Guides lead groups through the artificial caverns where Lascaux’s cave art has been carefully reproduced. The intent is to provide the experience of what it is like to see the inside of the real cave.

The cave ceiling is suspend above the museum floor.

Inside the modern building

No picture taking is allowed inside Lascaux IV’s reproduction cave. With that, you can take pictures inside the above ground exhibits, which conveniently also have copies of Lascaux’s cave art. Indeed, there is another copy of Lascaux’s art, Lascaux III, which travels around; you don’t even have to visit Southwestern France to be able to “experience” Lascaux.

Lascaux IV is tremendously popular. It is so popular that visitors are advised to book tickets for tours well in advance, even late in the season. If you show up without a ticket there’s no guarantee that you will be able to see the inside of the artificial cave.

In truth I found it all a bit odd. For sure it would be awesome to see Paleolithic artwork. And it is completely understandable that Lascaux Cave needs to be protected from the impacts of human visitation. Still it is strange that there is so much interest in seeing what is in essence a fake cave covered with art reproductions. There are plenty of copies of the Mona Lisa around, some better, some worse. But you don’t see lines of people assembling to see them as if they were the original.

The suspended reproduced section of Lascaux’s cavern creates an optical illusion: It’s hard to tell the top from the bottom from the distance.



The caves in this area of France were included on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1979: “Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley.”


We visited Lascaux IV at the end of October 2017.

1 Comment »

  1. […] in April of 2015 the concept behind the creation of the Caverne du Pont d’Arc is very similar to Lascaux IV, which we saw on the way to […]

    Pingback by France: Pont d’Arc and the Caverne de Chauvet | Another Header — December 26, 2018 @ 7:58 pm

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