Lascaux Keeps going Down the Drain

This is not new news & yet, unhappily, it is news that stays news in that nothing is being done about it — as Clayton Eshleman reminded me just a few days ago. Back in 2006, Time ran a cover story (see pix above — & you can read the story on the site given below) on the fungus threatening the prehistoric cave paintings of Lascaux, one of the absolute core artistic achievements of the human species. Read the latest update on the situation below & then go and sign the petition on the site of the International Committee for the Preservation of Lascaux. As I commented when signing: “If we cannot save our origins, we cannot save our future!”




France has failed to take any positive action on the ailing cave of Lascaux ignoring the resolutions passed at the July 2009 meeting of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee (WHC), Seville, Spain. It was at this meeting that the WHC’s resolutions on Lascaux made the immediate implementation of an independent scientific committee an integral part of the cave’s recovery plan.  To date, no such committee has been assembled or given authority over the cave.

France has also ignored the findings of its own symposium on Lascaux held in Paris February 2009 which called for a team of scientists in hard science to begin immediately forming a multidisciplinary research in Lascaux in an effort to finding the cause of and a cure for the current crisis. This advice, presented by their own experts, has not been taken seriously. Further, France has abolished the existing scientific committee without replacing it with a new committee. Lascaux has been without any scientific supervision for the past six months.

Any chance to find an effective treatment and permanent solution to the cause of Lascaux’s problem can only come once a thorough hard scientific, comprehensive study of the causes of the climatic and microbiological changes in cave. The WHC requested such a study be carried out in 2009. To date, France has not even begun the process which will inevitably take many months to complete putting the commencement of actual treatment for Lascaux out into the future. France did submit a report to the WHC in March 2009 but it did not address any causes of the crisis, as it has been directed, and only reported on some of the actions taken by the State in Lascaux.

The disregard with which France seems to hold the WHC resolutions made on Lascaux in July 2009, under Decision: 33 COM 7B.100 on the Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley (France) (C 85) is very troubling. It shows either an enormous lack of respect for the world community or a totally inept State institution which is charged with caring for one of the world’s greatest art treasures – or both.


  • Since there has been no further “progress in putting in place measures to strengthening the functioning of an independent International Scientific Committee and in proposing changes in governance to separate administrative and scientific functions”, and these requests were not “ implemented as soon as possible”,
  • Since “the work planned to consider the impact of different mitigation approaches” and  “the Protocol on Intervention that has been developed should be made public, as this could be used as a best practice example for other similar properties” has not been done,
  • Since “the State Party” has not continued “its process of research and mitigation”,
  • Since  “the extreme urgency of the work being undertaken to identify the optimum approaches to mitigation and research to document and map the overall climatic conditions of the cave as a precursor to the development of appropriate climate control mechanisms” has been ignored,
  • Since “the State Party to formalize the new management framework based on a separation between administrative and scientific functions, and also requests the State Party to give appropriate resources to the new independent and international Scientific Committee and invites representatives of ICOMOS and ICCROM to participate in its meetings” has not been taken acted upon by France,
  • Since requests that “the State Party continues to evaluate the causes of the problem and the different approaches for conservation and develop, on the basis of the priorities adopted by the International Scientific Committee, a detailed action plan with a timeframe for the next three years” has yet to be implemented,


  • Note furthermore that although currently only some of the paintings have been directly affected, and the overall impact of the various outbreaks of mould on the paintings has not threatened so far the Outstanding Universal Value and integrity of the property, the situation remains worrisome;”

The WHC, in passing the above resolution, was swayed by France’s false statement that only fourteen paintings have been affected by the nine years of mould and fungus attacks in the cave. This statement ignores the fact that the cave holds thousands of engravings which have been affected. The disappearance of some of the finest prehistoric engravings under clouds of black spots is never spoken of by the state although these engravings represent more than fifty percent of the cave’s art. Neither do they speak of the walls and ceilings of Lascaux which have also been extensively contaminated by a proliferation of black spots.

According to archeologists, one cannot separate artifacts from their context. In Lascaux, the artifacts are the paintings, and their context is the entire cave. The cave’s walls and ceilings are the canvases of the prehistoric paintings.

The black stains, visible on a limited number of paintings, actually spread over much larger areas of the neighboring walls. Not only do they modify the artistic perception of the paintings, but they also represent a significant threat to the integrity of all the paintings in the cave.

It is on this point that the ICPL strongly challenges UNESCO on its statement that the Outstanding Universal Value and integrity of Lascaux has not been threatened.

The ICPL continues to call for a truly independent, non-government sponsored international council of scientists and experts in cave art and its conservation to monitor and report to the world on Lascaux and its health.
Conclusions at a glance:

  • No study as to the causes of the origin of the damage has yet been undertaken as directed by the WHC in 2008.
  • No effective treatment has been found to stop the proliferation of black fungus.
  • The climatic balance has not been restored.
  • The implementation of the new international independent scientific committee is stalled awaiting a green light from France’s new Minister of Culture.
  • There is currently no scientific supervision in the cave.


Write a letter of concern to the new Minister of Culture urging him to empower the group of international scientist who have formed LIST and have volunteered to save Lascaux. The clock is ticking and it is Lascaux’s last chance to be saved. Lascaux is a world heritage site. It is a part of our universal and shared memory.
You can write to:
Frederic Mitterrand
Minister of Culture
3 Rue de Valois
75033 Paris Cedex 01 FRANCE

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2 Responses

  1. khalid says:

    Dear Pierre,

    I thought you might like this:

    ‘A presence revealed by pleasure. Each creature here is at home in man..They are making a single sign, and they are dancing in a circle to make this sign..They were for the dark. They were hidden in the dark so that what they embodied would outlast everything visible.
    —John Berger.



  1. February 5, 2010

    […] a previous post (here) I alerted readers to the disaster at Lascaux, and suggested everyone sign the petition for speedy […]

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