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Lascaux Cave Paintings

Updated on May 20, 2015
Replica of Lascaux Cave paintings in the Brno museum
Replica of Lascaux Cave paintings in the Brno museum | Source

Lascaux Cave Paintings are Prehistoric

The Lascaux caves are located in France, near the village of Montignac in the Vezere Valley. They became famous when numerous Paleolithic cave paintings were discovered adorning their walls. These works of art, realistic portrayals of a variety of large animals, are estimated to be as much as 20,000 years old. The site, together with a number of other caves, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known as Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vezere Valley.

The paintings had been preserved for all this time, protected from the outside by the natural sealing of the caves. Once discovered in 1940, though, they began to deteriorate as a result of the moisture, carbon dioxide, and other environmental changes resulting from air circulation and numerous visitors to the caves. So, a replica has been constructed for visitors, and only qualified researchers are given limited access to the actual site.

Seems like a good plan, since it allows the public the chance to view replicas with lots of historically accurate context, not just pictures on the wall of a museum or some "artist's impression" of what the original site looked like. And hopefully they will succeed in preserving the originals, which offer a tangible link to the very early history of humankind.

Shaft of the Dead Man
Shaft of the Dead Man | Source

So What are these Paintings All About?

The caves at Lascaux and their amazing artworks were discovered in 1940 by some teenagers. To their surprise, the cave paintings they discovered there are prehistoric! Since that time scientists have been amazed by what is contained there - a most astonishing view of the shadowy, powerful animal world of the Old Stone Age. The paintings cover the walls of several caverns, known today by such names as the Great Hall of the Bulls, the Chamber of Felines, the Shaft of the Dead Man, and the Painted Gallery.

On the walls are found depictions of bison, aurochs (an extinct type of wild ox), horses, deer, and felines, all animals known to have existed in Paleolithic times, as well as one single man. The one image of a man is of a dead man together with a bison and what appears to be a rhinoceros. It seems that the man has lost a fight with the bison, and is lying on the ground with a broken spear beside him.

Great Book on the topic

Norbert Aujoulat's book on the Lascaux cave paintings is the next best thing to going there yourself, which you can't do except to the replica. Aujoulat is one of the few scientists who has actually been allowed into the caves in recent times, and so this incredible book is a wonderful and complete account of the artworks to be found there. As well as Aujoulat's insights into the nature of the beasts depicted and how these artists of long ago achieved their work, the reader is rewarded with 262 color illustrations of the most important images from the caves.

Lascaux: Movement, Space and Time
Lascaux: Movement, Space and Time

The author directed the research on the Lascaux cave for ten years. This magnificent book contains beautiful full-color photography of all parts of the cave.


The Paintings

The cave paintings at Lascaux are the product of prehistoric human beings who were able to capture the essence of the animals that inhabited their world. They have obvious artistic merit, with the use of color, the contours of the cave walls included in the scenes to add three dimensional realism, and the remarkable compositions that portray vividly the experience of these large animals in motion. Beyond that, though, they are the relics of a culture long gone, one that we never imagined we could know intimately. Such amazing artworks bring these beings, barely human, into our own life experience in a way that evokes a deep emotional and spiritual response, at least in me!

While some of the animals appear at first glance distorted, it has been recognized that horses in their winter coats take on the short-legged proportions of those found here.

20,000 Year Old Lascaux Cave Painting - photo by Ralph Morse
20,000 Year Old Lascaux Cave Painting - photo by Ralph Morse | Source

20,000 Year Old Lascaux Cave Painting

By Ralph Morse


Many of the images show an understanding of perspective. In one painting a bison overlaps another, and the three dimensional effect is heightened by the location of the painting in a place where the wall curves outward on either side. There is also a "unicorn," actually a bull drawn in profile so that the two horns appear almost as one, like the horn of the mythical unicorn.

Interpretation of the pictures has varied, especially since there are so many paintings. Some appear no more than the fun of adolescent boys putting their handprints on the wall, perhaps in an effort to make themselves part of the hunt for the animals depicted there. Many have suggested a religious purpose, possibly a form of shamanism (especially since the dead man has a bird-like head and has a stick with a bird head on it beside him), or some kind of animism in which the spirits of the animals killed in the hunt were given a resting place through the drawings. Or, our ancestors may have drawn pictures of animals hoping for a successful hunt.

Whatever their purpose though, the magnificence of the artwork is undeniable and a wonderful display of human creativity from such primitive times.

Fascinating group of animals

Ancient Artwork on the Walls of the Cave at Lascaux
Ancient Artwork on the Walls of the Cave at Lascaux | Source

A Bison

View of a bison painted at Lascaux approximately  17,000 years ago Photo by Sisse Brimberg
View of a bison painted at Lascaux approximately 17,000 years ago Photo by Sisse Brimberg | Source

See the size of these paintings!

B. & G. Delluc in Lascaux cave
B. & G. Delluc in Lascaux cave | Source

Virtual tour of Lascaux

Have you visited or would you like to visit Lascaux? - Now you've been on the virtual tour, how about the real (well, replica) thing?

Have you visited the Lascaux site?

See results

Mario Ruspoli was hired by the French Ministry of Culture to photograph and film the Lascaux cave paintings and engravings as a historical record of the site. But this book is more than just a visual anthology, it is a journey into the lives of those primitive human beings who created these magnificent works of art.

© 2009 Jennifer P Tanabe

Do you love these prehistoric paintings?

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    • tazzytamar profile image

      Anna 3 years ago from chichester

      Wonderful lens - I adore these paintings and was lucky enough to go and see them when I as little. This really brought those memories back to me so thank you

    • raffael lm profile image

      raffael lm 3 years ago

      I love this lens of you. So pretty with beautiful images and useful info of cave paintings

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      it just shows that human have always been artistic

    • profile image

      TanoCalvenoa 3 years ago

      The cave art skateboard deck is about the best art for a skateboard I've ever seen. I love learning about all things prehistoric, including cave paintings.

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 4 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Stunning aren't they! We have rock art in Australia too, very similar, but at least 40,000 years old.

    • rstaveley lm profile image

      Richard Staveley 4 years ago from Burley in Wharfedale, Yorkshire, England

      These paintings are lovely. And to think they are 20,000 years old! When you look at modern art, you start to think that evolution has gone into reverse! Great lens on a fascinating subject.

    • profile image

      pacourse 4 years ago

      Again a great lens

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 4 years ago from New Zealand

      Nice lens. Looks fine on my Mac. Blessed.

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 4 years ago

      i come back to this beautiful lens to send Angel Blessings!

      This lens is featured in my Luray Cave lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Its my pleasure to return to your Lascaux Cave Paintings with fresh angel dust.

    • irminia profile image

      irminia 4 years ago

      Thank you for the link to the virtual tour of Lescaux caves. I had absolutely no idea that it is so huge and fascinating.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 4 years ago from Southampton, UK

      It's amazing how much we have learned from prehistoric art like this. Lovely lens.

    • profile image

      antoniow 5 years ago

      Fantastic lens, well done!

    • MirysPlace profile image

      MirysPlace 5 years ago

      Love it, love it!

    • MirysPlace profile image

      MirysPlace 5 years ago

      YES! I love these prehistoric paintings! So interesting!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Great lens and love those paintings!

    • astaramay profile image

      astaramay 5 years ago

      "High Five" I love the work that was done in the cave, and you have put together quite a wonderful selection of pics, products, and information on the subject. Great job!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      The animal paintings are so lovely and full of magic of art.I really love them so much.

    • profile image

      Ladyeaglefeather 5 years ago

      great lens, I love all of the pictures.

    • glodny profile image

      glodny 5 years ago

      I love those paintings. They ate roots of our culture

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      Lascaux has fascinated me ever since I saw, many years ago, a National Geographic article about the cave paintings. Such a treasure!

    • profile image

      seosmm 5 years ago

      Very nice lens! Amazing art!

    • profile image

      Terrie_Schultz 5 years ago

      Wonderful lens! These paintings are amazing.

    • masaad profile image

      masaad 5 years ago

      amazing, i think there was also a documentary movie about this The cave of forgotten dreams

    • PeterStip profile image

      PeterStip 5 years ago

      great lens, I love the Lasceaux paintings. Those mysterious animals surviving time and weather. Thanks.

    • artbyrodriguez profile image

      Beverly Rodriguez 5 years ago from Albany New York

      Amazing! And I loved the virtual tour....interesting and informative lens.

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 5 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      @DeclutterDiary: Yes, you're absolutely right! Original sites have that special experience.

    • profile image

      DeclutterDiary 5 years ago

      I love prehistoric art! I'd really rather go see the actual caves rather than a replica. I totally understand why they want to preserve the site from damage - but to be at the actual site would be to be in the very space these prehistoric people occupied. I could sense things that way. The replica would lack that extra sensory experience.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      I've always been fascinated by the Lascaux Paintings - very interesting bit of history, indeed. And a great lens, to boot! :)

    • Sher Ritchie profile image

      Sher Ritchie 5 years ago

      Amazing paintings!

    • efcruzarts profile image

      efcruzarts 5 years ago

      great lens for art history

    • timelapselove profile image

      timelapselove 5 years ago

      Fantastic lens! These cave paintings are unbelievable!

    • wheresthekarma profile image

      wheresthekarma 5 years ago

      Yes and just wanted to say you have lots of interesting lenses :)

    • JMaltman profile image

      JMaltman 5 years ago

      A flashback to my art history days! Great job!

    • ellagis profile image

      ellagis 5 years ago

      Yeah, they're so impressing! Thank you for your detailed lens!

    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 5 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      Amazing place, amazing lens!

    • JeanJohnson LM profile image

      JeanJohnson LM 5 years ago

      I agree with other comments, it seems humans have always possessed the need to create art. Great lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Their talent was amazing. The existence of the Lascaux Paintings shows us that from earliest times, humans have felt a need to create art. Beautiful lens!

    • profile image

      MagnoliaTree 6 years ago

      I have always loved these paintings from Lascaux. The paintings may be prehistoric, but there is nothing primitive about them and they display a high sensibility.

    • michelleart profile image

      Michelle Collins 6 years ago from Florida

      Love your prehistoric art lenses! Would love to see some of these in my Art History Neighborhood ;-) *Blessed*

    • kimpaul profile image

      kimpaul 6 years ago

      what a fascinating subject! Love your lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      oh i love paintings but i love these ones a lot!

      i love how they show as how people paint and tell storys thats the best part! :) <3

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I love cave art and your Lascaux Cave held my fascination, beautiful!

    • LizMac60 profile image

      Liz Mackay 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Great cave paintings obviously painted by highly intelligent human beings.

    • tvyps profile image

      Teri Villars 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Very nice. Just lensrolled you to my CAVEMAN WRITING DECIPHERED! AMAZING DISCOVERIES! lens which I would say, is a little more satirical. Ha! Have fun!

    • LizMac60 profile image

      Liz Mackay 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Great lens, I enjoyed the virtual trip in Lascaux.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Wonderful subject, most interesting. Thank you.

    • NanLT profile image

      Nan 6 years ago from London, UK

      a fascinating look at a fascinating subject. You've been blessed by your friendly neighbourhood Reiki Squidoo Angel

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 6 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Great lens - I know I've seen many of these cave paintings before, but never realized they originated in France.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      These are gorgeous pieces of art and I am sure the cave man and the ancient humanity had great artists in them. Beautiful collection in your lens and love the presentation.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      These are gorgeous pieces of art and I am sure the cave man and the ancient humanity had great artists in them. Beautiful collection in your lens and love the presentation.

    • David Stone1 profile image

      David Stone 6 years ago from New York City

      Yes, it's utterly fascinating to me. I'm interested in both art and evolution. It's impossible to underestimate the significance of these artworks and to wonder what evolutionary advantage elevated art so early in the age of humans. Thanks. Great lens.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 6 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      These Prehistoric Cave Paintings are amazing. Thanks for sharing them.

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 6 years ago

      I know this lens, it is featured in my Luray lens. I came back to sprinkled Angel dust and blessings.

      Happy Christmas to you

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 6 years ago

      I think these prehistoric paintings are pretty amazing -- demonstrating supreme intelligence.

    • MoonandMagic profile image

      MoonandMagic 6 years ago

      These cave paintings are incredible, I have always been fascinated with prehistory. Great lens. Thanks

    • tvyps profile image

      Teri Villars 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Interesting stuff, I wonder if these guys spoke French? Ouch, j'ai brl mes doigts avec le feu! (Ouch, I burned my fingers with the fire!)...haha!

    • javr profile image

      javr 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      These have interested me since I was a teenager. Thanks.

    • profile image

      ShamanicShift 6 years ago

      Engaging, educational read -- helpful summary -- great lens.

    • SubtleMoon profile image

      SubtleMoon 6 years ago

      Very nice lens. I am a big Paleo Art fan.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Love this lens! Love the paintings!

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 6 years ago

      They're beautiful, and I loved the virtual tour. How incredible it must be to actually see the caves in person.

    • caketech profile image

      caketech 6 years ago

      This is fascinating!

    • Swisstoons profile image

      Thomas F. Wuthrich 6 years ago from Michigan

      I've been intrigued by the cave paintings since I was a kid and first saw them in an art book which belonged to my older sister. The degree of talent of the artists varies, but when you look at the best of them, you can feel the power of the animals portrayed. A very interesting and informative lens. Thumbs up...and a favorite!

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 6 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      @thesuccess2: Yes, Lascaux is often referred to as the Sistine Chapel of Prehistoric art. Interestingly, the cave art in Altamira, Spain is also given such a title!

    • thesuccess2 profile image

      thesuccess2 6 years ago

      Isn't Lascaux called the Sistine Chapel of Prehistoric Art?

    • jlshernandez profile image

      jlshernandez 6 years ago

      Thank for writing this lens. I have seen pictures of the Lascaux cave paintings and was always fascinated by them.

    • Home Interior D profile image

      Home Interior D 6 years ago

      Fascinating and well made lens. I was reading a book recently on these cave paintings which suggested they were created, as you suggest, along religious lines. They are said to have taken hallucinogens from which the visual images they saw were then painted onto the walls. The zig-zags and other patterns present on the walls are commonly seen in all humans during hallucinations.

      All so very interesting. Great lens!

    • CherylsArt profile image

      Cheryl Paton 7 years ago from West Virginia

      They make cool designs. I especially was amazed at the height of the drawings, when seen with a person standing in front of them.

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      theearthtraveler 7 years ago

      The secret of understanding these caves is to understand the people who painted these caves.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      @anonymous: It helped me, too! I am also doing a project on the Lascaux Caves!

    • smange lm profile image

      smange lm 7 years ago

      These caves are not far from where I live. Pity you can't go in to the actual cave any more unless you're on official business.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      this helped me with my assignment on lascaux cave. hopefully this is reliable!

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 7 years ago

      Just come back spreading my Angel Wings to offer a Blessing for this beautiful lens.

    • profile image

      kimmanleyort 7 years ago

      I find this subject fascinating too and your pictures are wonderful!

    • LoKackl profile image

      LoKackl 7 years ago

      This lens is wonderful. I enjoyed learning about lascaux cave paintings, including the art and Ts! I watched a PBS program sometime back about these caves and the art - and was fascinated. From what you've written about yourself I think you must be someone I'd like to know! Nice to meet you jptanabe!

    • lollyj lm profile image

      Laurel Johnson 7 years ago from Washington KS

      OH I just LOVED this lens!!! Fascinating topic and info.

      5 and fave.

    • myraggededge profile image

      myraggededge 7 years ago

      Lovely! D'you know what I think? Our boys today will draw,watch, be interested in cars, trucks, spaceships and machinery - the fastest and most powerful things in their universe, so those boys, youths, men of old did the same thing. The things they respected the most; those that awed and fascinated them - big powerful animals.

    • rubyandmahoney profile image

      rubyandmahoney 7 years ago

      This was a fascinating lens to read. I studied archaeology in college and one of my classmates worked on a paleolithic dig in southern France in the late 80s. It is amazing how the need to express oneself artistically persists throughout human history. I think that is one of the main characteristics that separates humanity from the rest of the animal kingdom. Thanks for sharing!

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      bdkz 7 years ago

      Super, Super lens!

    • RhondaAlbom profile image

      Rhonda Albom 7 years ago from New Zealand

      Fascinating! I really enjoyed this lens. I especially like that you included the one photo with the person in the foreground. It helps to see the magnitude of the drawings.

    • profile image

      JLCollins 7 years ago

      Very informative lens! I love the photos on it.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 7 years ago from United States

      Wow, really cool lens! How have I not seen this before! Most Excellent!

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 7 years ago

      Excellent lens, love the pictures and entire presentation.

      I'll feature this lens in my Luray Caverns lens

      Thanks Fav. 5*


    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      A fascinating lens!