On 12th 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. The teenagers discovered that the cave walls were covered with depictions of animals.
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 21st 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 14th 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.
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.
Most of the major images have been painted onto the walls using red, yellow, and black colours from a complex multiplicity of mineral pigments, including iron compounds such as iron oxide (ochre): hematite, and goethite, as well as manganese-containing pigments. Charcoal may also have been used but seemingly to a sparing extent.
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,that was swabbed or blotted on, rather than applied by brush.
In other areas, the colour was applied by spraying the pigments by blowing the mixture through a tube. 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, 605 it 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 includes 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.
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 long, the largest animal discovered so far in cave art. Additionally, the bulls appear to be in motion.
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.