Will Aurochs, a Cattle Species Found in Ancient Cave Paintings, be Resurrected?

Will Aurochs, a Cattle Species Found in Ancient Cave Paintings, be Resurrected?

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A group of researchers is looking to resurrect aurochs, a species of wild cattle which disappeared in the first half of the 17th century. It's another attempt to bring this animal back to life - Nazi scientists once tried to accomplish the feat as well.

According to the Washington Post , a group of scientists, historians, and ranchers are looking to resurrect the species of wild cattle that is related to the domesticated cattle seen today.

The last auroch died in 1627 in Poland. The animal was tall and heavy, with long, long, forward-curving horns. It was a dangerous animal, even to the cave lion, the largest of its predators. The animal was admired by Julius Caesar, who described them in The Gallic Wars as being "a little below the elephant in size.''

The hunting horn made from the horn of the last aurochs bull that belonged to King Sigismund III of Poland. ( Public Domain )

Aurochs are often associated with a scene in a painting on a cavern wall at Lascaux, France from 17,000 years ago. The scene also depicted a Megaloceros. All of the animals which appear in a painting, including the giant deer, the cave lion, and the aurochs, are extinct.

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The Dutch nonprofit group named Stichting Taurus is providing financial support to the TaurOs Project , which is a partnership of ecologists, geneticists, historians, and cattle breeders. They are seeking to re-create the aurochs by crossbreeding modern cattle in a process known as back breeding. They say that laboratory-based genetic engineering is not required for the task. The process they've chosen instead is the selective breeding of animals that exist today to get as close as possible to their now-extinct ancestors.

A painting by Heinrich Harder showing an aurochs fighting off a Eurasian wolf pack. ( Public Domain )

As Peter Maas wrote for the Sixth Extinction : "Back-breeding is possible because much of the genetic material of the extinct wild ancestors and subspecies survived in the domestic progeny or in surviving related subspecies. This can result in animals that resemble the original extinct ancestor or an extinct subspecies."

The TaurOs Project was created as a part of a conservation movement which wants to “rewild” and restore large areas of land as much as possible to their pre-human state. Their goals include reintroducing key animals and plants that have disappeared. The project is led by Ronal Goderie, an ecologist and author of the book ''The Aurochs: Born to Be Wild'' .

In 2008, they started their attempt at breeding the aurochs via their descendants which share characteristics with the lost species: large stature, long legs, a slender and athletic build, horns curving forward, and black coats.

Restoration of the aurochs based on a bull skeleton from Lund and a cow skeleton from Cambridge, with characteristic external features of the aurochs. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

In a talk with Washington Post Goderie said:

“What you see already in the second generation is that the coloration of the animal is very aurochs-like. The bulls are black and have an eel stripe [along the spine]. They’re already higher on the legs. What’s more complicated is the size and shape of the horns. I would say that in some cases you can see an individual animal is 75 percent of where we need to get a…We think in six, seven generations we will get a stabilized group of Taurus cattle. That will take us another seven to 10 years.”

A first generation cross bull from the TaurOs Project. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

It's not the first time people have tried to bring back the aurochs . In the 1930s, Nazi commander Hermann Goering asked geneticists to recreate the extinct species. Heintz and Lutz Heck started to work on the possible re-creation of various animals including the aurochs. According to the notes left by Nazi scientists, they used a similar idea of developing a genetically engineered species by back-breeding from the aurochs’ descendants.

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In their attempt, they crossed Spanish fighting bulls with Highland cattle, along with primitive breeds from Corsica and Hungary. As a result, they received muscular cows with massive horns .The project of resurrecting the aurochs failed however, because both brothers died during World War II. The Heck bull was the product of their failed attempt, and is an animal with big horns, which measures about 1.4 meters (4.59 ft.) in height and weighs up to 600 kg (1322.77 lbs).

Heck cattle: the first attempt to breed a look-alike of the aurochs with modern cattle. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

Beth Shapiro, an expert in ancient DNA and a biologist at the University of California in Santa Cruz, says that resurrecting extinct animals is both terrifying and exhilarating. In an interview with the Smithsonian she shared her thoughts that creating the possibilities for resurrecting animals is necessary. With the knowledge of recreating animals from their DNA code, she argued that we may bring to life not only woolly mammoths, bisons, dodos, and aurochs, but also black and white rhinos, which disappeared recently.

Featured Image: Aurochs in a Lascaux cave animal painting. Source: CC BY SA 3.0


Scientific name: Bos primigenius Scientific classification:

Phylum: Chordata Class: Mammalia Order: Artiodactyla Family: Bovidae When did it become extinct? The last known aurochs died in 1627. Where did it live? The aurochs was found throughout Europe, the Middle East, and into Asia, with subspecies in North Africa and India.

Most of the cattle breeds we know today are descended from the huge prehistoric cattle known as aurochs. These large animals roamed the woods and glades of Europe and Asia for thousands of years, until the last of the species, a female, died in Poland in 1627.

As the aurochs only disappeared in quite recent times, there are lots of accounts of what it looked like and how it behaved. The males were very large animals—1.8 m at the shoulder and 900 kg—significantly larger than most of the cattle breeds we have today. Both the males and females had impressive horns that curved forward and slightly inward, and the male in particular looked like a typical but very powerfully built bull. Unlike modern breeds of cattle, the male and female aurochs were a different color. A bull was said to be black with a pale stripe along his spine, while the female was more reddish brown.

Aurochs—The aurochs was the ancestor of most modern cattle, albeit significantly larger than most modern breeds. Both males and females feature prominently in ancient cave art. (Cis Van Vuure) Aurochs—This old drawing, by an unknown artist, clearly shows the distinctive horns of the aurochs. (Cis Van Vuure)

According to historic accounts, aurochs lived in family groups that were made up of females, calves, and young bulls. As the bulls grew older, they formed groups of their own, and the large, mature bulls were solitary, only mixing with others of their kind during the breeding season. Like other types of cattle, the aurochs were completely herbivorous and lived on a diet of grasses, leaves, fruits such as acorns, and even the bark of trees and bushes during the harsh winter months.

The aurochs, particularly the bulls, were said to be very aggressive, and they were apparently very difficult to domesticate, but about 9,000 years ago, in the Middle East, early humans did exactly that, giving us many of the cattle breeds we have today. A large animal with an aggressive nature would not have been easy to look after, so our ancestors selectively bred these animals to make them more docile. Selective breeding was also used to produce types of cattle that could yield copious amounts of milk. The udders of the female aurochs were far smaller than the capacious glands in between a modern cow's back legs.

Humans domesticated many other animals apart from the aurochs, and it was this change from a hunter-gatherer existence to an agricultural one that spelled the end for the aurochs. Over centuries and millennia, humans changed the habitats in which the aurochs lived. They cut down the forests to plant crops or to make room for their domesticated animals to graze and browse. The land they chose for their first agricultural attempts were those areas with the richest soils: river deltas, valleys, and fertile wooded plains. These were the aurochs' natural habitat, and they were forced into areas where the food was perhaps not quite as nutritious. The large size and formidable temperament of these animals made them very popular hunting targets for food and sport. Habitat loss, competition with their domesticated relatives, and hunting all contributed to the gradual disappearance of the aurochs. In 1476, the last known aurochs lived in the Wiskitki and Jaktorow forests, both of which are in present-day Poland. These last two populations of aurochs were owned by the Duke of Mazovia, and as they were favored animals for hunting, they eventually received royal protection, making it an offense for anyone other than a member of the royal household to kill an aurochs. Unfortunately, what is now Poland fell into turbulent times, and many kings came and went in quite a short period of time. During this era, the protection of the aurochs was much less of a priority, and the last two populations got smaller and smaller through neglect and hunting. From 1602, records show that aurochs were only found in Jaktorow Forest, and a royal decree was issued in 1604 to protect the remaining individuals. This was too little too late, and by 1627, the species was extinct—the forests of central Europe would no longer hear the bellow of an aurochs bull.

♦ The ancestors of the aurochs are believed to have evolved in India around 1.5 to 2 million years ago, from which time they spread throughout the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. For much of their existence, the earth was going through ice ages and intervening warm periods, and as the aurochs were not adapted to survive in intensely cold environments, their range probably increased as the ice sheets withdrew and contracted as the ice sheets extended south.

♦ The aurochs died before photography was invented, so we have no photographs, and considering that this was once a very common animal, there are not many complete skeletons in the world's museums. The image of the aurochs lives on in cave paintings, and the La Mairie cave (Dordogne, France) pictures, which date back to around 15,000 years ago, show a bull aurochs with two females.

♦ In the 1920s, two German zoologist brothers speculated that the aurochs could be effectively brought back from the dead by selectively breeding modern cattle for aurochs traits. Their experiments quickly produced cattle with some strong similarities to the aurochs. These animals, known as Heck cattle, do have some of the characteristics of the aurochs, but they can only ever be an approximation of the extinct animal and an interesting experiment in selective breeding.

♦ Some animal breeders and zoologists have suggested that the fighting bulls of Spain have many aurochslike characteristics and so perhaps they represent the closest living relatives of these extinct beasts.

♦ There is an ongoing, intense debate on how Europe looked after the end of the last ice age. One group of scientists believes that all of Europe was covered by dense forest until humans came along and started chopping it all down. Another group supports the idea that feeding and trampling by large animals like the aurochs opened up and maintained large glades and paths within the forest. Bialowieza Forest, a World Heritage Site and biosphere reserve on the border between Poland and Belarus, is the last remnant of this European wildwood.

Further Reading: van Vuure, T. "History, Morphology and Ecology of the Aurochs (Bos primigenius)" Lutra 45 (2002): 1-16.

The Aurochs Skull

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In the Museum of London hangs the colossal minotaur-esque skull of a beast that’s been extinct for nearly 400 years, the aurochs. This particular skull dates from the Neolithic period and was discovered in Ilford, East London, where herds of this creature once roamed.

The Eurasian aurochs (plural “aurochsen”) was a gigantic species of wild cattle that was found across the forests and steppes of Europe and Central Asia until its extinction. It is the same magnificent beast that is a recurrent theme in the prehistoric cave paintings of Lascaux and Chauvet in France and Altamira, Spain, which indicates that it must have been an animal imbued with a cultural and spiritual significance for the Paleolithic hunter-gatherer peoples of Europe.

It is also believed that the aurochs may have been associated with the later Celtic horned god Cernunnos, a diety linked to fertility, the animals of the forest, and the underworld. Paleontologists believe that this animal was likely the wild ancestor of the cattle first domesticated in Neolithic-era Turkey or Iran. Its genes have been found to survive in some domestic cattle breeds such as the “Bó Chiarraí” or Kerry dairy cow from Ireland and the Chillingham white cows of northern England.

This bovine behemoth stood approximately 6 feet tall at the shoulders and typically weighed a whopping 3,310 pounds. Such a colossal size and weight dwarf any bovine species that still exists. Its long, curved horns could reach lengths over 30 inches and were likely used by these animals to defend themselves and their herds against predators such as wolves, bears, and humans, which would be gored or trampled to death. As such, the early hunter-gatherer peoples would have faced tremendous dangers while hunting this beast. Nevertheless, by the end of the Bronze Age the aurochs was almost completely extirpated due to overhunting, and it was entirely extinct in Britain by the time of the Romans’ invasion of the British Isles.

In continental Europe the aurochs survived for much longer, although it was also heavily overhunted for use in the Roman coliseums as a fighting beast and for its meat and skin. By the medieval age, the species could only be found in isolated and sparsely populated regions of eastern Europe where it was sometimes hunted by the nobility. The last reports of these animals suggest that a small population somehow clung onto survival until the 15th century in the forests of Poland. The final record of the species mentions an individual female that died from natural causes in 1627, the last member of her species, and with her passing the aurochs was extinct.

Domestication of the aurochs

The living descendants of the aurochs can be subdivided into two genetic lineages: taurine cattle and zebuine (Asiatic humped) cattle. They are the result of two different domestication events and descend from two different subspecies of aurochs. Taurine cattle were domesticated in the Near East and zebuine cattle in the Indus Valley, Pakistan (11). According to a 2012 study, taurine cattle descend from only about 80 aurochs cows (12).

After domestication, the gene pools of wild aurochs and domestic cattle probably remained connected to some degree. Mitochondrial haplotypes suggest genetic influence from wild populations into the domestic stock in Europe (13,14,15), and the full sequencing of the genome of a British aurochs male from 8000 years ago has shown that British landraces are influenced by local aurochs (13).

The Toro Muerto Petroglyphs

Another set of intriguing pieces of ancient art depicting strange beings can be found in Peru at the mysterious Petroglyphs of Toro Muerto, which according to many depict strange humanoid figures that do not resemble human beings.

The petroglyphs cover an area of several kilometers in length. Toro Muerto, which translated, means Dead Bull was named because of the herds of livestock that commonly died because of dehydration in the area.

Among the countless carvings at Toro Muerto, there are interesting depictions of what appear to be, shepherds, hunters, and semi-realistic figures, zoomorphic figures like jaguars, condors, camels, and fish. The ancients also depicted sunflowers and trees without branches, geometric symbols, zig-zags, square, diamond shapes and some inscriptions, intaglios, and bizarre writings all over an area of approximately four kilometers.

The most intriguing depictions at Toro Muerto are those of beings that do not share much resemblance to normal human beings. Even more fascinating is the fact that some of the petroglyphs of Toro Muerto bear a freakish resemblance to petroglyphs found in Australia where ancient man also depicted mysterious beings with ‘halos’ around their heads. The beings depicted at Toro Muerto were carved with a number of strange characteristics, like antennas on top of their heads.

Hybrid mystery

To solve the animal's mysterious genetic background, an international team of researchers examined the creature's remains &mdash that is, its bones and teeth &mdash which were unearthed from caves in Europe, the Ural mountains in Russia and the Caucasus mountains in Eurasia.

Then, the scientists studied ancient DNA from 64 different bison, including the creature's mitochondrial DNA (genetic material passed down through the mother's lineage) and nuclear DNA, or DNA passed down from both parents.

"We could see that the nuclear DNA was very obviously like the steppe bison," Cooper said. "The mitochondrial [was] telling us another [ancestor]: cattle."

The evidence suggested that the creature was a hybrid, likely started by a female Aurochs and a male steppe bison, he said. Moreover, the hybrid animal's nuclear DNA was about 90 percent steppe bison and 10 percent Aurochs, Cooper said.

"That ratio tells you that after the first hybridization event, there was back breeding with steppe bison for a little while, which is why the steppe bison DNA is higher," Cooper said. "That will often happen when you have a hybrid mammal, because the male [hybrid] offspring tend to be sterile." [Real or Fake? 8 Bizarre Hybrid Animals]

Mystery species hidden in cave art appears to be unknown bison-cattle hybrid

Ancient DNA research has revealed that Ice Age cave artists recorded a previously unknown hybrid species of bison and cattle in great detail on cave walls more than 15,000 years ago.

The mystery species, known affectionately by the researchers as the Higgs Bison* because of its elusive nature, originated over 120,000 years ago through the hybridisation of the extinct Aurochs (the ancestor of modern cattle) and the Ice Age Steppe Bison, which ranged across the cold grasslands from Europe to Mexico.

Research led by the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) at the University of Adelaide, published today in Nature Communications, has revealed that the mystery hybrid species eventually became the ancestor of the modern European bison, or wisent, which survives in protected reserves such as the Białowieża forest between Poland and Belarus.

"Finding that a hybridisation event led to a completely new species was a real surprise -- as this isn't really meant to happen in mammals," says study leader Professor Alan Cooper, ACAD Director. "The genetic signals from the ancient bison bones were very odd, but we weren't quite sure a species really existed -- so we referred to it as the Higgs Bison."

The international team of researchers also included the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), Polish bison conservation researchers, and palaeontologists across Europe and Russia. They studied ancient DNA extracted from radiocarbon-dated bones and teeth found in caves across Europe, the Urals, and the Caucasus to trace the genetic history of the populations.

They found a distinctive genetic signal from many fossil bison bones, which was quite different from the European bison or any other known species.

Radiocarbon dating showed that the mystery species dominated the European record for thousands of years at several points, but alternated over time with the Steppe bison, which had previously been considered the only bison species present in Late Ice Age Europe.

"The dated bones revealed that our new species and the Steppe Bison swapped dominance in Europe several times, in concert with major environmental changes caused by climate change," says lead author Dr Julien Soubrier, from the University of Adelaide. "When we asked, French cave researchers told us that there were indeed two distinct forms of bison art in Ice Age caves, and it turns out their ages match those of the different species. We'd never have guessed the cave artists had helpfully painted pictures of both species for us."

The cave paintings depict bison with either long horns and large forequarters (more like the American bison, which is descended from the Steppe bison) or with shorter horns and small humps, more similar to modern European bison.

"Once formed, the new hybrid species seems to have successfully carved out a niche on the landscape, and kept to itself genetically," says Professor Cooper. "It dominated during colder tundra-like periods, without warm summers, and was the largest European species to survive the megafaunal extinctions. However, the modern European bison looks genetically quite different as it went through a genetic bottleneck of only 12 individuals in the 1920s, when it almost became extinct. That's why the ancient form looked so much like a new species."

Professor Beth Shapiro, UCSC, first detected the mystery bison as part of her PhD research with Professor Cooper at the University of Oxford in 2001. "Fifteen years later it's great to finally get to the full story out. It's certainly been a long road, with a surprising number of twists," Professor Shapiro says.

*The Higgs Boson is a subatomic particle suspected to exist since the 1960s and only confirmed in 2012.


On 12 September 1940, the entrance to the Lascaux Cave was discovered by 18-year-old Marcel Ravidat when his dog, Robot, fell in a hole. Ravidat returned to the scene with three friends, Jacques Marsal, Georges Agnel, and Simon Coencas. They entered the cave through a 15-metre-deep (50-foot) shaft that they believed might be a legendary secret passage to the nearby Lascaux Manor. [8] [9] [10] The teenagers discovered that the cave walls were covered with depictions of animals. [11] [12] Galleries that suggest continuity, context or simply represent a cavern were given names. Those include the Hall of the Bulls, the Passageway, the Shaft, the Nave, the Apse, and the Chamber of Felines. They returned along with the Abbé Henri Breuil on 21 September 1940 Breuil would make many sketches of the cave, some of which are used as study material today due to the extreme degradation of many of the paintings. Breuil was accompanied by Denis Peyrony, curator of Les eyzies (Prehistory Museum) at Les Eyzies, Jean Bouyssonie and Dr Cheynier.

The cave complex was opened to the public on 14 July 1948, and initial archaeological investigations began a year later, focusing on the Shaft. By 1955, carbon dioxide, heat, humidity, and other contaminants produced by 1,200 visitors per day had visibly damaged the paintings. As air condition deteriorated, fungi and lichen increasingly infested the walls. Consequently, the cave was closed to the public in 1963, the paintings were restored to their original state, and a monitoring system on a daily basis was introduced.

Replicas Edit

Conservation problems in the original cave have made the creation of replicas more important.

Lascaux II Edit

Lascaux II, an exact copy of the Great Hall of the Bulls and the Painted Gallery was displayed at the Grand Palais in Paris, before being displayed from 1983 in the cave's vicinity (about 200 m or 660 ft away from the original cave), a compromise and attempt to present an impression of the paintings' scale and composition for the public without harming the originals. [8] [12] A full range of Lascaux's parietal art is presented a few kilometres from the site at the Centre of Prehistoric Art, Le Parc du Thot, where there are also live animals representing ice-age fauna. [13]

The paintings for this site were duplicated with the same type of materials such as iron oxide, charcoal and ochre which were believed to be used 19 thousand years ago. [10] [14] [15] [16] Other facsimiles of Lascaux have also been produced over the years.

Lascaux III Edit

Lascaux III is a series of five exact reproductions of the cave art (the Nave and Shaft) that, since 2012, have traveled around the world allowing knowledge of Lascaux to be shared far from the original.

Lascaux IV Edit

Lascaux IV is a new copy of all the painted areas of the cave that forms part of the International Centre for Parietal Art (Centre International de l'Art Pariétal). Since December 2016 this larger and more accurate replica which integrates digital technology into the display is presented in a new museum built by Snøhetta inside the hill overlooking Montignac. [17] [18]

Pottery & Prints Edit

French pottery from the region – decorated with images of the Lascaux paintings – were once produced and sold in abundance within the surrounding regions as objet d'art and souvenirs, are now difficult to find as the images have been copyrighted. Prints of the images are only available for purchase through the Lascaux museum store.

In its sedimentary composition, the Vézère drainage basin covers one fourth of the département of the Dordogne, the northernmost region of the Black Périgord. Before joining the Dordogne River near Limeuil, the Vézère flows in a south-westerly direction. At its centre point, the river's course is marked by a series of meanders flanked by high limestone cliffs that determine the landscape. Upstream from this steep-sloped relief, near Montignac and in the vicinity of Lascaux, the contours of the land soften considerably the valley floor widens, and the banks of the river lose their steepness.

The Lascaux valley is located some distance from the major concentrations of decorated caves and inhabited sites, most of which were discovered further downstream. [19] In the environs of the village of Eyzies-de-Tayac Sireuil, there are no fewer than 37 decorated caves and shelters, as well as an even greater number of habitation sites from the Upper Paleolithic, located in the open, beneath a sheltering overhang, or at the entrance to one of the area's karst cavities. This is the highest concentration in Europe.

The cave contains nearly 6,000 figures, which can be grouped into three main categories: animals, human figures, and abstract signs. The paintings contain no images of the surrounding landscape or the vegetation of the time. [19] Most of the major images have been painted onto the walls using red, yellow, and black colours from a complex multiplicity of mineral pigments [20] : 110 [21] including iron compounds such as iron oxide (ochre), [22] : 204 hematite, and goethite, [21] [23] as well as manganese-containing pigments. [21] [22] : 208 Charcoal may also have been used [22] : 199 but seemingly to a sparing extent. [20] On some of the cave walls, the colour may have been applied as a suspension of pigment in either animal fat or calcium-rich cave groundwater or clay, making paint, [20] that was swabbed or blotted on, rather than applied by brush. [23] In other areas, the colour was applied by spraying the pigments by blowing the mixture through a tube. [23] Where the rock surface is softer, some designs have been incised into the stone. Many images are too faint to discern, and others have deteriorated entirely.

Over 900 can be identified as animals, and 605 of these have been precisely identified. Out of these images, there are 364 paintings of equines as well as 90 paintings of stags. Also represented are cattle and bison, each representing 4 to 5% of the images. A smattering of other images include seven felines, a bird, a bear, a rhinoceros, and a human. There are no images of reindeer, even though that was the principal source of food for the artists. [24] Geometric images have also been found on the walls.

The most famous section of the cave is The Hall of the Bulls where bulls, equines, aurochs, stags and the only bear in the cave are depicted. The four black bulls, or aurochs, are the dominant figures among the 36 animals represented here. One of the bulls is 5.2 metres (17 ft 1 in) long, the largest animal discovered so far in cave art. Additionally, the bulls appear to be in motion. [24]

A painting referred to as "The Crossed Bison", found in the chamber called the Nave, is often submitted as an example of the skill of the Paleolithic cave painters. The crossed hind legs create the illusion that one leg is closer to the viewer than the other. This visual depth in the scene demonstrates a primitive form of perspective which was particularly advanced for the time.

Parietal representation Edit

The Hall of the Bulls presents the most spectacular composition of Lascaux. Its calcite walls are not suitable for engraving, so it is only decorated with paintings, often of impressive dimensions: some are up to five metres long.

Two rows of aurochs face each other, two on one side and three on the other. The two aurochs on the north side are accompanied by about ten horses and a large enigmatic animal, with two straight lines on its forehead that earned it the nickname "unicorn". On the south side, three large aurochs are next to three smaller ones, painted red, as well as six small deer and the only bear in the cave, superimposed on the belly of an aurochs and difficult to read.

The Axial Diverticulum is also decorated with cattle and horses accompanied by deer and ibex. A drawing of a fleeing horse was brushed with manganese pencil 2.50 metres above the ground. Some animals are painted on the ceiling and seem to roll from one wall to the other. These representations, which required the use of scaffolding, are intertwined with many signs (sticks, dots and rectangular signs).

The Passage has a highly degraded decoration, notably through air circulation.

The Nave has four groups of figures: the Empreinte panel, the Black Cow panel, the Deer swimming panel and the Crossed Buffalo panel. These works are accompanied by many enigmatic geometric signs, including coloured checkers that H. Breuil called "coats of arms".

The Feline Diverticulum owes its name to a group of felines, one of which seems to urinate to mark its territory. Very difficult to access, one can see there engravings of wild animals of a rather naive style. There are also other animals associated with signs, including a representation of a horse seen from the front, exceptional in Paleolithic art where animals are generally represented in profiles or from a "twisted perspective".

The apse contains more than a thousand engravings, some of which are superimposed on paintings, corresponding to animals and signs. There is the only reindeer represented in Lascaux.

The Well presents the most enigmatic scene of Lascaux: an ithyphallic man with a bird's head seems to lie on the ground, perhaps knocked down by a buffalo gutted by a spear at his side is represented an elongated object surmounted by a bird, on the left a rhinoceros moves away. Various interpretations of what is represented have been offered. [25] A horse is also present on the opposite wall. Two groups of signs are to be noted in this composition:

  • between man and rhinos, three pairs of digitized punctuation marks found at the bottom of the Cat Diverticulum, in the most remote part of the cave
  • under man and bison, a complex barbed sign that can be found almost identically on other walls of the cave, and also on paddle points and on the sandstone lamp found nearby.

Interpretation Edit

The interpretation of Palaeolithic Art is problematic, as it can be influenced by our own prejudices and beliefs. Some anthropologists and art historians theorize the paintings could be an account of past hunting success, or could represent a mystical ritual in order to improve future hunting endeavors. The latter theory is supported by the overlapping images of one group of animals in the same cave location as another group of animals, suggesting that one area of the cave was more successful for predicting a plentiful hunting excursion. [26]

Applying the iconographic method of analysis to the Lascaux paintings (studying position, direction and size of the figures organization of the composition painting technique distribution of the color planes research of the image center), Thérèse Guiot-Houdart attempted to comprehend the symbolic function of the animals, to identify the theme of each image and finally to reconstitute the canvas of the myth illustrated on the rock walls. [27] [ further explanation needed ]

Julien d'Huy and Jean-Loïc Le Quellec showed that certain angular or barbed signs of Lascaux may be analysed as "weapon" or "wounds". These signs affect dangerous animals—big cats, aurochs and bison—more than others and may be explained by a fear of the animation of the image. [28] Another finding supports the hypothesis of half-alive images. At Lascaux, bison, aurochs and ibex are not represented side by side. Conversely, one can note a bison-horses-lions system and an aurochs-horses-deer-bears system, these animals being frequently associated. [29] Such a distribution may show the relationship between the species pictured and their environmental conditions. Aurochs and bison fight one against the other, and horses and deer are very social with other animals. Bison and lions live in open plains areas aurochs, deer and bears are associated with forests and marshes ibex habitat is rocky areas, and horses are highly adaptive for all these areas. The Lascaux paintings' disposition may be explained by a belief in the real life of the pictured species, wherein the artists tried to respect their real environmental conditions. [30]

Less known is the image area called the Abside (Apse), a roundish, semi-spherical chamber similar to an apse in a Romanesque basilica. It is approximately 4.5 metres in diameter (about 5 yards) and covered on every wall surface (including the ceiling) with thousands of entangled, overlapping, engraved drawings. [31] The ceiling of the Apse, which ranges from 1.6 to 2.7 metres high (about 5.2 to 8.9 feet) as measured from the original floor height, is so completely decorated with such engravings that it indicates that the prehistoric people who executed them first constructed a scaffold to do so. [19] [32]

According to David Lewis-Williams and Jean Clottes who both studied presumably similar art of the San people of Southern Africa, this type of art is spiritual in nature relating to visions experienced during ritualistic trance-dancing. These trance visions are a function of the human brain and so are independent of geographical location. [33] Nigel Spivey, a professor of classical art and archeology at the University of Cambridge, has further postulated in his series, How Art Made the World, that dot and lattice patterns overlapping the representational images of animals are very similar to hallucinations provoked by sensory-deprivation. He further postulates that the connections between culturally important animals and these hallucinations led to the invention of image-making, or the art of drawing. [34]

André Leroi-Gourhan studied the cave from the 1960s his observation of the associations of animals and the distribution of species within the cave led him to develop a Structuralist theory that posited the existence of a genuine organization of the graphic space in Palaeolithic sanctuaries. This model is based on a masculine/feminine duality – which can be particularly observed in the bison/horse and aurochs/horse pairs – identifiable in both the signs and the animal representations. He also defined an ongoing evolution through four consecutive styles, from the Aurignacian to the Late Magdalenian. Leroi-Gourhan did not publish a detailed analysis of the cave's figures. In his work Préhistoire de l'art occidental, published in 1965, he nonetheless put forward an analysis of certain signs and applied his explanatory model to the understanding of other decorated caves.

The opening of Lascaux Cave after World War II changed the cave environment. The exhalations of 1,200 visitors per day, presence of light, and changes in air circulation have created a number of problems. Lichens and crystals began to appear on the walls in the late 1950s, leading to closure of the caves in 1963. This led to restriction of access to the real caves to a few visitors every week, and the creation of a replica cave for visitors to Lascaux. In 2001, the authorities in charge of Lascaux changed the air conditioning system which resulted in regulation of the temperature and humidity. When the system had been established, an infestation of Fusarium solani, a white mold, began spreading rapidly across the cave ceiling and walls. [35] The mold is considered to have been present in the cave soil and exposed by the work of tradesmen, leading to the spread of the fungus which was treated with quicklime. In 2007, a new fungus, which has created grey and black blemishes, began spreading in the real cave.

As of 2008, the cave contained black mold. In January 2008, authorities closed the cave for three months, even to scientists and preservationists. A single individual was allowed to enter the cave for twenty minutes once a week to monitor climatic conditions. Now only a few scientific experts are allowed to work inside the cave and just for a few days a month, but the efforts to remove the mold have taken a toll, leaving dark patches and damaging the pigments on the walls. [36] In 2009 the mold problem was pronounced stable. [37] In 2011 the fungus seemed to be in retreat after the introduction of an additional, even stricter conservation program. [38] Two research programs have been instigated at the CIAP concerning how to best treat the problem, and the cave also now possesses a climatisation system designed to reduce the introduction of bacteria.

Organized through the initiative of the French Ministry of Culture, an international symposium titled "Lascaux and Preservation Issues in Subterranean Environments" was held in Paris on 26 and 27 February 2009, under the chairmanship of Jean Clottes. It brought together nearly three hundred participants from seventeen countries with the goal of confronting research and interventions conducted in Lascaux Cave since 2001 with the experiences gained in other countries in the domain of preservation in subterranean environments. [39] The proceedings of this symposium were published in 2011. Seventy-four specialists in fields as varied as biology, biochemistry, botany, hydrology, climatology, geology, fluid mechanics, archaeology, anthropology, restoration and conservation, from numerous countries (France, United States, Portugal, Spain, Japan, and others) contributed to this publication. [40]

In May 2018 Ochroconis lascauxensis, a species of fungus of the Ascomycota phylum, was officially described and named after the place of its first emergence and isolation, the Lascaux cave. This followed on from the discovery of another closely related species Ochroconis anomala, first observed inside the cave in 2000. The following year black spots began to appear among the cave paintings. No official announcement on the effect or progress of attempted treatments has ever been made. [41]

The problem is ongoing, as are efforts to control the microbial and fungal growths in the cave. The fungal infection crises have led to the establishment of an International Scientific Committee for Lascaux and to rethinking how, and how much, human access should be permitted in caves containing prehistoric art. [42]

13. You can visit a scale replica of the Chauvet Cave paintings.

The world-famous Paleolithic cave paintings at Lascaux, not far from Pont d’Arc, were damaged by the exhalations of thousands of visitors after the cave was opened to the public in 1948. So, immediately after Chauvet Cave was discovered, scientists moved to protect the fragile paintings and closed it to the public now, only scholars are allowed in during brief windows of time. But that doesn’t mean you can’t see a simulation of the artwork up close. In 2015, a scale replica of the Chauvet Cave paintings, dubbed the Caverne du Pont d’Arc, opened near the site of the actual cave. Engineers and artists faithfully recreated not just the dazzling paintings, but also the temperature, dampness, murk, and funky smell of the original.

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