Grotte Art

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(Old wooden fence near our hotel)

Today we visited (sort of..) the Grotte de Lascaux, where the art is over 17,000 years old.

In 1940 four teenagers and a dog called Robot discovered these caves. They were opened to the public in 1948 but had to be closed again due to the contamination from the visitors – the carbon dioxide and the fungus they brought. Also, opening the caves up to the air changed the micro-climate that had allowed the art to be preserved.

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(Some lichen on a rock near our hotel… very bad for old paintings)

So, to be exact we visited Grotte de Lascaux II, the replica cave. It took eleven years to build. We have the guide’s assurances that it’s identical to the original. But it’s pretty amazing, replica or not. Lots of people want to visit and only twenty people can fit in the caves at a time so you have to book your tickets ahead. We bought out ticket in the local town at midday and the next English tour was at 3pm. We had lunch and got back just in time (by Irish standards – we were five minutes late…)

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(Np photographs allowed, this is from the brochure, anyway pictures don’t do it justice)

We had seen pictures of the art before but up close they’re different. They’re part of the natural lay of the rock in the cave. Reminded me of the Michelangelo quote ”I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free”. They used the contours of the stones that matched an animal shape and then painted the animal there. So the effect is 3D.

A few things struck me as interesting that the guide said. (I’ll keep some for tomorrow in case it’s a slow day!)

He described how they used crushed rock mixed with water (or saliva) for paint. How it was dark in the cave and although they could make fire, making fire produces smoke, so not very useful. Instead, they invented candles, made from animal fat with a thin juniper twig for a wick and a carved stone as a holder. How they put up scaffolding as most of the painting is on the ceiling.

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(Not too clear but look at the ceiling… the orange colour is a horse… or it might be a bull….)

The interesting thing, “So they were intelligent… as intelligent as us.”

I had always thought of “cave men” as not so bright, don’t know why now….. Just another assumption…. and assumptions are dangerous. They cloud my vision. For example, if the traffic lights at the bottom of my road are always broken and I “know” that they are always broken, then when they get fixed I’m unlikely to notice! Why would I? I know they’re broken….

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(Two horses. Can you spot the symbols? They’re very small.)

So there I am in the group of twenty and I’m happy looking at the nice pictures. Then the guide starts to point things out. Things that I hadn’t seen. Things that were invisible to me. He pointed to the form of the rock being integral to the picture. He pointed to the “movement” of the horses, and they did look like they were moving. He pointed to the shapes – square, rectangular. Shapes that were unnatural, i.e. not in nature, so therefore invented, dreamed up by these artists. He pointed to the animals seeming to move towards the symbols, the dots, the lines. He pointed to lots more and it became visible to me.

Now I’m thinking….. what else is invisible to me and my assumptions?

Bonne journée, Mairead. (Have a nice day!)