[Guest post by STL Master artist, Pat Knepley]
On a warm September day in southern France in 1940, four teenage boys and a dog named Robot went exploring in some woods, hoping to find an adventure. The teens had heard stories of a cavern that ran under the nearby river bed. They had mused about finding the access point and it possibly leading to a treasure.
Little did these teens know that the treasure they would stumble upon would be an archaeological find of incredible significance – The Lascaux Caves.
When Robot the dog starting digging in a trench under a pile of leaves, the boys decided to use their pen-knives to chip away at some stones in the same area. Pretty soon a hole opened up, and the boys climbed down one by one to an amazing sight of bulls and horses four feet tall drawn on the walls as if they were floating.
The history of art did not start with the ancient Romans or Ancient Greeks and their love of beauty – it goes much farther back than that. Making images with materials on a surface – drawing – goes as far back as the creation of man.
The Lascaux Caves contain several thousand images of human figures, animals, and symbols drawn onto the walls and ceiling.
Back in 1940, the four boys knew they had stumbled into something extraordinary. So they shared their secret with one of their teachers, who realized right away the significance of the find. Scientists soon discovered that the complex series of rooms that connected deep in a rocky ledge contained thousands of drawings and engravings dating back from the earliest known civilization, the Paleolithic Age.
The images of animals in motion, some now extinct like the ibex and the auroch, move us because we recognize that this is the expression of the earliest people groups with a story to share for the ages. And it is not that different from our own. The purpose of these drawings is not immediately clear and, although this prehistoric form of art can tell us something about the world at that time, a lot of questions remain. Unfortunately, we may not have many years left to find the answers.
The Lascaux Caves are in peril.
Next Week: What’s happening to the cave paintings, resources for learning about the paintings, and how you can create your own “cave painting.”