Lascaux Updates


UPDATE 30 NOVEMBER 2009

FRANCE IGNORES UNESCO MANDATES

AS LASCAUX CONTINUES TO LANGUISH

 

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.

 

CITING THE LACK OF PROGRESS ON THE WHC’S OWN DECISIONS THEREFORE:

 

  • 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,

 

THE ICPL CONTINUES TO CHALLENGE ITEM #7 IN THE WHC’S LIST OF RESOLUTIONS ON LASCAUX:

 

  • 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.

 

26 AUGUST 2009

 

NEW INTERNATIONAL INDEPENDENT SCIENTIFIC COMMITTEE
WAITING FOR GREEN LIGHT TO TAKE OVER CARE OF LASCAUX
UNESCO CALLS LASCAUX SITUATION “WORRISOME”
BUT FAILS TO PLACE LASCAUX ON DANGER LIST


For the past five years, the International Committee for the Preservation of Lascaux (ICPL) has urgently called for the formation of a truly independent, international scientific committee to take over the scientific care of the cave of Lascaux. This proposal has now not only become reality but has also become the international benchmark for Lascaux.

 

A renown group of international scientists, including several from Andre Malraux’s original scientific committee, have joined together to form the Lascaux International Think Tank (LIST). They have offered their services to the French Ministry of Culture in finding ways to save Lascaux. Furthermore, at its 33rd annual meeting this July in Seville, Spain, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee (WHC) in its resolutions on Lascaux made an independent scientific committee an integral component in Lascaux’s recovery plan.


It was clear from discussions of scientists at the international symposium held in Paris last February on the state of Lascaux’s deterioration that the challenge to finding solutions to the cave’s recovery lays in the fields of microbiology, physics and climatology. That this world renowned group of scientists, LIST, has volunteered their time and expertise, along with the fact that the WHC has set LIST as the standard in Lascaux’s preservation, is very good news for Lascaux.
However, the bad news is that France has yet to empower LIST to act to save the cave and its 17,000 year old paintings. LIST is awaiting a green light from the newly appointed Minister of Culture, Frederic Mitterrand. Meanwhile, Lascaux is left without scientific supervision while microorganisms continue marking their damage to some mankind’s most exquisite art.


ICPL CHANGELLENGES UNESCO DECISION ON LASCAUX


While the WHC did make progress with raising the benchmark of an independent international scientific committee for Lascaux, it failed to place Lascaux on its List of World Heritage Sites in Danger for 2010.


The ICPL challenges Item #7 in the WHC’s list of resolutions on Lascaux:

  • “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.


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.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

 

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

 

 

3 March 2009

 

HOPE, THEN BEWILDERMENT AT LASCAUX SYMPOSIUM

President’s Closing Comments Contradictory

 

Minister of Culture, Mme. Christine Albanel, offered fresh hope and a new vision for Lascaux in Paris last week. Speaking to scientists at a symposium on the Lascaux crisis held Feb. 26-27, Mme. Albanel promised transparency of conservation and scientific autonomy in the future treatment of the cave. She assured the audience that France will “take care of Lascaux” asking for their help, guidance and enlightenment to assist France in carrying out that pledge.

 

Mme. Albanel also announced the creation of a new scientific committee which will operate independently from the non-scientific, bureaucratic management of the cave.  Her bold moves are to be applauded. Many of the past mistakes made in Lascaux have been a direct result of management, not scientists, making pivotal decisions on treatments to the cave.

Many excellent scientific exchanges came from the symposium holding out great hope for new ideas and interventions from the international community in saving Lascaux.  However, the concluding afternoon session was disappointing and in contradiction to sessions of the preceding day and a half.  Comments from the closing panel of social scientists,  along with summary statements  by the symposium’s president,  Jean Clottes, declared that the cave was no longer in danger leaving scientists and other participants completely bewildered.

 

This opinion was in sharp contrast to what participants heard throughout the symposium about the continued state of destabilization of the cave’s ecosystem and was in direct disagreement with Clottes’ earlier statement on Lascaux to the press. “A hundred microorganisms or more are cohabitating and interacting there. All it needs is for one to dominate for disaster to ensue,” he said. Clearly, all is not well in Lascaux.

 

The Lascaux administration acknowledged that the cave’s crisis began in 2000 when, upon their order, work to replace the cave’s air control machine resulted in a rampant infestation of fusarium.The immediate effect was a destabilization of the cave’s interior climate and the disruption of its natural air currents. Since then, the cave and its 17,000 year old paintings have suffered from mounting invasions of molds, fungi and bacteria which have yet to be irradiated.

Marc Gauthier, president of the current international scientific committee on the Lascaux cave, spoke about the cave’s interior climate at the symposium noting that “All of Lascaux’s problems have always been linked to the cave’s climatization, meaning the equilibrium of the air inside the cave. Gauthier continued saying Lascaux’s climate is now “stagnating, immobile, frozen.”

 

For more than thirty years Lascaux’s equilibrium remained stable and the cave was not in danger. In 2000, Lascaux’s climate was suddenly disrupted. The cave has never regained stabilization.  Statements that Lascaux is out of danger are reckless and untrue. Given that all of Lascaux’s problems are directly linked to the equilibrium of its climate, it then follows that this crisis will continue until the cave regains climatic stability. As long as Lascaux’s ecosystem continues to remain destabilized, Lascaux is in danger.

 

8 February 2009

 

FRANCE TO HOST SYMPOSIUM ON LASCAUX IN REPSONSE TO UNESCO’S QUESTIONING TREATMENT PRACTICES IN THE CAVE OF LASCAUX

WILL SYMPOSIUM FOCUS ON FINDING SCIENTIFIC
ANSWERS TO THE CRISIS IN LASCAUX?

 

Facing challenging questions concerning the treatment and safeguard of the cave of Lascaux from UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee at its annual meeting in Quebec last summer, the French delegation proposed to conduct a symposium focusing on the crisis of Lascaux. Under the direction of Christine Albanel, France’s Minister of Culture, a symposium is scheduled to take place in Paris February 26 – 27, 2009. We applaud Minister Albanel for her leadership in providing a forum to address the critical state of Lascaux, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Jean Clottes, president of the International Federation of Rock Art Organizations, will act as chair.

 

As stated in the symposium’s program, Ms. Albanel intends to use this opportunity to confront and assess actions taken in Lascaux by France’s state sponsored international scientific committee for the Lascaux cave. This intention, to critically analyze the actions of the committee with a view to define a more successful way forward, is appropriate given the well documented failures of the last nine years. If the symposium engages specialists with expertise in other milieu, assuming those milieu have faced the same or similar crises as Lascaux, solutions to the current crisis could arise.  From the symposium discussions the Minister hopes the participants will find common approaches for conservation and develop new lines of research to address the crisis in Lascaux.

 

We welcome the engagement of informed specialists in the definition of a solution for Lascaux. However, if the upcoming symposium is to accomplish its objective of finding concrete answers to the catastrophe threatening to destroy the cave’s 17.000 year old art, thediscussions must be relevant to Lascaux and its unique problems. This requires that the symposium’s participants understand that the primary source of Lascaux’s dilemma is the disruption of the cave’s climatology.

 

It is well known that the cave’s crisis began in 2000 when administrative officials decided to replace Lascaux‘s dependable air control system with a new forced air machine. This installation completely disrupted the delicate climatological balance in the cave and induced the long lived diffusion of molds and fungus which are now attaching to and destroying the irreplaceable prehistoric paintings. Respecting the proficiency of those participating in the symposium, it is clear that to have any meaningful discussion or debate, the panels must include the expertise of specialists in the hard sciences of microbiology and climatology, the two area s at the heart of Lascaux’s crisis.

Minister Albanel’s original initiative for the organization of the symposium is to be commended. However, the symposium cannot be used as a rubber stamping of the failed policies of the Lascaux administration which has been in charge of the cave’s care during this entire crisis.

To be truly effective and productive in finding cures to Lascaux’s challenges the discussions and panels cannot be academic dialogues. They must be based in the hard sciences and be specifically related to the exceptional issues facing Lascaux’s situation. The symposium must reach out to international experts experienced in the life conditions of microorganisms, including their DNA sequencing, to find solutions to curing the cave of infection and preserving its prehistoric art.

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.

 

 

21 July 2008

 

ALARM SPREADS IN REACTION TO
MINISTER OF CULTURE’S RESPONSE TO UNESCO

FRANCE PROPOSES TO IGNORE UNESCO REQUIREMENTS
CONTINUING WORK IN AILING CAVE

 

The French Minister of Culture’s response to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee’s (WHC) stipulations for the ailing prehistoric painted cave of Lascaux sent alarm bells ringing throughout the world.  In what appears to be total disregard for the authority of the WHC, the Ministry whitewashes its hands and proposes to continue work inside the cave thereby completely ignoring the Committee’s resolutions on Lascaux passed at its July 2008 meeting in Quebec.

 

In their recent press release, the Minister’s office outlined actions France will take against the resolutions of the WHC. The most harrowing is a new phase of extremely harmful interventions in the cave without first conducting impact studies as ordered by the WHC. One of these interventions is called “decolorization”, a highly controversial, damaging process of physically scraping the painted walls of the cave.

 

France’s attitude of disrespect for the rules of the WHC is exemplified in the case study of the World Heritage Site of the Port of Bordeaux (Port de la Lune). Within one year of France lobbying for and attaining the coveted World Heritage Site designation for the port, they demolished a bridge which was a key element of the site without first speaking with the WHC. The demolition of this bridge permanently altered the integrity and outstanding universal value of the Port of Bordeaux. 

 

A contract between parties, in this case the WHC representing the nations of the world and France, goes two ways. For its part, France paid no heed to its side of the agreement. France does a great disservice, not only to the body of the World Heritage Committee, but to the people of the world who have placed the care of our collective global human heritage in its hands.

 

The International Committee for the Preservation of Lascaux (ICPL) challenges the Minister’s office to abide by the resolutions of the WHC in regard to Lascaux. To this end, we will be vigilant in pushing the Minister’s office to comply with the resolutions of the WHC especially the one which calls for impact studies to be carried out prior to any further action inside the cave.

 

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.

 

8 July 2008

 

LASCAUX, THE SISTINE CHAPEL OF PREHISTORIC ART, CONSIDERED FOR
2008 LIST OF WORLD HERITAGE SITES IN DANGER

UNESCO’S WHC PLACES REQUIREMENTS ON FRANCE
WITH ONE YEAR TO COMPLY

 

This week, the painted cave of Lascaux came very close to being placed on the 2008 List of World Heritage in Danger during a lengthy discussion at UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee (WHC) meeting in Quebec. Lascaux is part of the World Heritage site, Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley, France. The International Committee for the Preservation of Lascaux (ICPL) is very pleased that after four years of hard work we have succeeded in placing the crisis of Lascaux on the world stage.

 

Lascaux, well known as the Sistine Chapel of Prehistoric Art, has been under attack from man-made threats since 2000 and is now at risk of extinction. Upwards of 50% of the cave’s 17,000 year old art is disappearing under an incursion of black spots, some as large as human hands, triggered by the use of high intensity lights inside the cave.

The WHC presented France with several requirements which they must meet during the next year. Among these requirements are:

  • To make an impact study prior to any further interventions in the cave. Until now, France, has acted on a reactionary and piecemeal basis to each new crisis with no overall scientific protocol in place. Marie-Anne Sire, the cave’s administrator admitted as much in a July 1, 2008 interview in the Washington Post saying, “Each time we try to resolve one problem, we create another.’
  • To invite a WHC mission inside Lascaux to examine the current conditions of the cave.  This measure will allow, for the first time, independent scientists and experts in prehistoric art to assess the condition of the cave and offer their expertise on finding solutions to the crisis.
  • To submit to the WHC a conservation report by February 1, 2009 on the specific causes of the damage to the paintings with a view to considering, in the absence of substantial progress in finding out the cause of the damage to the art, the possible inscription of the cave on the 2009 List of World Heritage in Danger.  This is an extremely important measure for the health of the cave and its art. To date, French management has been treating only the symptoms of the crisis not the cause.

 

The requirements placed upon France by the WHC are significant and strong. France will now have to answer to the world community for actions they have taken in the past and will take in the future. Lascaux’s management must now operate in a spirit of transparency or risk having Lascaux, the Sistine Chapel of Prehistoric Art, placed on the 2009 List of World Heritage in Danger.

 

The ICPL applauds the WHC for taking firm action in the case of Lascaux and for enacting many of the measures the ICPL has been advancing since 2004. The ICPL looks forward to remaining vigilant and fighting for our mission of preserving the original, prehistoric paintings of the cave of Lascaux.

 

2 July 2008

 

ICPL ASKS UNESCO TO PLACE FAMED CAVE OF
LASCAUX ON SITES IN DANGER LIST

FIFTY PERCENT OF PREHISTORIC ART VISABLY ALTERED

 

With fifty percent of Lascaux’s magnificent 17,000 year-old art disappearing under an unchecked contamination of black spots, the ICPL is calling on UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee to place Lascaux, on its List of World Heritage in Danger at this week’s Quebec meeting of the Committee.

Lascaux, well-known as the Sistine Chapel of Prehistoric Art, is threatened by:

  • the rampant proliferation of the black spots and by
  • the inept handling of the cave’s crisis by the current administration.

Marie-Anne Sire, Lascaux’s administrator, admitted to the Washington Post in an article published on Tuesday, July 1, 2008: “Each time we try to resolve one problem, we create another.” This statement comes from an administration who just one month ago told the world that everything in Lascaux was under control.

 

Lascaux’s interior climatic balance and ecosystem have been completely destabilized since the administration’s ill-advised removal of the cave’s climatic control system in 2000. Almost immediately, the incursions of mold and fungus began to spread throughout the cave threatening to destroy its magnificent, irreplaceable art.

 

For the past eight years the administration has applied emergency measures to the cave without first putting into place rigorous scientific protocols. At no time during this crisis has the administration conducted a thorough scientific study of the cave’s situation prior to treatments being applied. As evidenced by Sire’s statement, the administration has no comprehensive conservation policy in place. It operates on a reactive and piecemeal basis to each new crisis. Lascaux is used as a laboratory for experimentation.

 

Fearful they were losing the art altogether, the administration conducted a major project of people and high intensity lights inside the cave to create a computer simulation of the ancient images. The result of this action was the appearance of the black spots which spread rapidly and now threaten to completely cover the art. Sire comments in the Washington Post article, “We didn’t know we were taking such a risk.”

 

The administration would like for us to believe today’s crisis is simply a continuation of past problems and that they are the “inheritors” of past mistakes. However, it must be noted, that the first scientific commission of the 1960s brought successful resolution to an earlier crisis. Lascaux and its precious paintings remained safe and in excellent health until 2000. This is evidence that with the proper scientific study and protocols Lascaux can be stabilized once more and its art preserved for future generations.

 

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

 

18 April 2008

French TV1 News Report on State of Lascaux Misleading

 

Officials Okay Scraping of Walls

 

The International Committee for the Preservation of Lascaux (ICPL) challenges the French National Television (TF1) announcement claiming the crisis in Lascaux is resolved. The report asserts that the black spots, which have attacked the cave and its prehistoric paintings since 2006, are now disappearing and gives the impression that the cave is cured.

While the latest biocide treatments have killed the bacteria on some of the black spots, new areas have been contaminated. Melanin, a black pigment produced by the bacteria, stain the walls and remain a permanent, visual, alteration to the cave’s 17,000 year old paintings and to the overall integrity of Lascaux, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

Lascaux’s administrators are currently experimenting with an aggressive method they call “decolorization” to remove the melanin by physically scraping the affected areas. The scraping not only removes the melanin but also layers of the walls’ surface, whether painted or unpainted, thus irrevocably altering one of mankind’s most famous works of art.

 

Scientists Disagree on Treatment of Cave

 

According to the TF1 report, French officials assert the cave is close to reaching a microbiological equilibrium. This claim is strongly disputed by scientists within the state’s own scientific committee who say just the opposite is happening.

While the biocide spray used to treat the black spots kills some of the bacteria, it also contains nutrients which further disrupt the existing microbial ecology within the treated cave. In addition, the scientists explain, after any type of biocide  treatment  in the cave a new microbial equilibrium  will naturally form. No one can predict if this new equilibrium will be more or less favorable to the prehistoric paintings.

 

17,000 year old Paintings Remain in Grave Danger

 

The black spots now contaminate fifty percent of Lascaux’s decorated walls. The “Abs,” which contains some 1,600 prehistoric engravings, the highest concentration in the world, along with the Passage and the Nave, are the most affected areas. The ICPL strongly condemns the use of experimental techniques like the scraping method called “decolorization” in Lascaux and on its irreplaceable art.

 

Along with the ICPL, a worldwide concern for the health and survival of Lascaux is growing. Hundreds of people, private citizen and professionals in the field of prehistory, have signed petitions urging UNESCO to place Lascaux on its 2008 list of World Heritage Sites in Danger at its annual meeting in July.

 

 

21 December 2007

UNESCO TO INVESTIGATE LASCAUX CRISIS

 

French Officials Split on Treatment of Cave

 

UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre will send a monitoring mission to investigate the crisis in the cave of Lascaux. This decision comes after convincing evidence of the severity of the crisis and a formal request for the mission was presented by the International Committee for the Preservation of Lascaux (ICPL) to UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre in Paris, France. The ICPL has also requested that Lascaux be inscribed on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in Danger.

Current Conditions in Lascaux

  • The new black spot invasion, first reported in 2006, continues at an alarming rate.
  • Spots tripled in number in late summer 2007.
  • Through laboratory analysis, it was found that the black spots contain a melanin component which is triggered by light.
  • It is now suspected that the invasion of black spots is a direct result of excessive and direct lighting used by the survey team and art restorers over the last four years.
  • Prehistoric engravings and paintings, including the famous Black Cow, are directly threatened by these spots.

Cave to be Sprayed on Trial and Error Basis then Closed

 

Lascaux’s administrators have decided on its latest round of treatment for the cave based not in science, but in the desire to keep both sides of its table happy. Consequently, the cave will be sprayed, and then closed.

 

The commission will proceed with the process on a trail and error basis inside the cave. The chemical solutions will be prepared by France’s Research Laboratory of Historical Monuments (LRHM) but applied inside the cave by art restorers who are not scientists. Additionally, there is no sound precedent for closing the cave.  Indeed, closing the cave after spraying could have disastrous results as it did in 1963 when researchers found that the quantity of green algae had greatly increased after several months of closure.

 

UNESCO’s monitoring mission to investigate the continuing crisis in Lascaux will have to wait until French officials decide to reopen the cave.

 

The ICPL continues to call on the world community, to which Lascaux and its magnificent art belong, to join them in demanding independent scientific oversight in the treatment of Lascaux and transparency in the future management of the cave.

 

1 March 2007

 

Contrary to statements by French officials, Lascaux remains in extremely critical condition. Since international attention was drawn to the plight of the cave by the 16 May 2006 TIME cover article, “Heritage at Risk”, the French authorities have closed ranks and are issuing false and misleading statements (see below) about the condition of the cave. According to their statements in public interviews, the cave is now recovering and the crisis is over. This could not be further from the truth.

 

The cave is rampaged by a proliferation of black spots large as human hands which have now begun to cover some of the paintings. Authorities were woefully slow to act in identifying and treating when the spots first appeared last year. Today, Lascaux and its paintings are suffering from the ineptitude and lack of response of those charged with the care of the cave. The ill-fitted air conditioning machine is completely shut down. The cave has no means of circulating its natural currents of air. Moisture is building; water can be seen running down the paintings. The once sparkling white calcite canvas of Lascaux is now grey.

 

CURRENT CONDITIONS IN THE CAVE

  • The bacterial and fungus infection inside Lascaux is NOT under control.

  • The proliferation of black spots, which was first reported in 2006, continues at an alarming rate. Biologists have not yet identified the nature of these spots and, consequently, have not prescribed a proper treatment to irradiate the spots.

  • The head of the famous Black Cow is now threatened and surrounded by the black spots.

  • Even without a diagnosis on the black spots, major disagreements on their treatment exist between those in charge of Lascaux. Some want to begin another round of disastrous antibiotic spraying inside the cave. Others are virulently opposed to this.

  • The Air Recirculation System:
    Installed in 1968, the air recirculation system was designed to work in passive concert with Lascaux’s natural air flow and was only needed during the wettest seasons of the year. When operational, the system mimicked the cave’s natural currents pulling the air to a cold point causing condensation to form there rather than on the walls of the cave.

    After several early crises in the cave, the first scientific commission conducted careful, in-depth studies of the cave’s interior climate. The result was the design and installation of the passive convection system which served Lascaux very well from 1968 until 2000.
    ill-fitted air conditioning machine
    is completely shut down and still in place.

  • The cave is very wet and water can be seen running down the walls covered with paintings.

  • The temporary roof set up in 2000 (after the removal of a permanent roof) to aid in the installation of the air machine remains in place exposing the cave to sudden variations in exterior climate and precipitation.

  • The white Calcite:
    A common crystalline form of natural calcium carbonate found in marble, chalk and limestone.

    In Lascaux, an existing layer of calcite over some of the cave walls offered the prehistoric artists a white and highly reflective, prickly surface on which to paint. In this case, the calcite was advantageous for the original artists and for the viewer as it gives brilliance to the paintings. However, when moisture condenses over the painted walls (created by interior destabilization in the cave) it can also create a veil of white calcite which grows to progressively cover the paintings and entire walls of the cave.
    calcite
    which gave the paintings of Lascaux their brilliant canvas has turned grey.

 

CRITICAL ISSUES REMAIN

  • Authorities refuse to address the major problem which led to the current crisis in Lascaux: the ill-conceived,
    Air Recirculation System:
    Installed in 1968, the air recirculation system was designed to work in passive concert with Lascaux’s natural air flow and was only needed during the wettest seasons of the year. When operational, the system mimicked the cave’s natural currents pulling the air to a cold point causing condensation to form there rather than on the walls of the cave.

    After several early crises in the cave, the first scientific commission conducted careful, in-depth studies of the cave’s interior climate. The result was the design and installation of the passive convection system which served Lascaux very well from 1968 until 2000.
    ill-fitted air conditioning machine
    .

  • Continued lack of expertise to correctly and immediately identify and treat the black spots now rampant in the cave.

  • There is still too much human presence in the cave on a regular basis.

 

STATEMENTS BY AUTHORITIES from le Figaro, 13 December 2006

  • Isabelle Pallot-Frossard, director, Laboratoires de Recherche des Monuments Historiques (LRMH:
    France ’s Research Laboratory of Historical Monuments was created by Minister of Culture Andre Malraux in response to the first Lascaux conservation’s crisis in 1963. In 2000, The LRMH, responsible for monitoring Lascaux’s biological condition, made no inspections during construction work done in connection with installing the new ill-conceived and disastrous air circulation system.
    LRMH
    ) - Pallot-Frossard said that today’s administrators of Lascaux are simply picking up the pieces and cleaning up the mess caused by the crisis in the cave forty years ago. She intimates that this current crisis is nothing more than a continuation of the old crisis.

  • It must be noted, however, that the First Scientific Commission:
    In 1963, responding to the first crises threatening Lascaux, Minister of Culture, Andre Malraux, appointed the commission to “….study the changes inside the cave, find remedies and bring the cave back to stable conditions”.

    The commission conducted careful, in-depth studies of the cave’s interior climate. The result was the design and installation of the passive convection system which served Lascaux very well from 1968 until its removal in 2000.
    First Scientific Commission
    was able to bring to resolution that earlier crisis and that the cave of Lascaux and its precious paintings remained safe and in excellent health from the 1960s until 2000 when construction on the new air machine began.

  • Jean-Michel Geneste, curator of Lascaux – Geneste referring to the recent crisis admitted there was panic because no one understood what was happening in the cave. He said they were very afraid that the fusarium would crawl across the walls and cover the walls and damage the 18,000 year old paintings by creating fissure and breaking down pieces of calcite. To say this, Geneste implies that these things did not happen. Indeed they did.

  • The le Figaro article, “180 Degree Ecological Turn Around for the Lascaux Cave”, in which the above comments appeared, also reviewed the Lascaux dossier published in Monumental (Nov. 2006), Monumental is the official magazine of the Laboratoires de Recherche des Monuments Historiques (LRMH). The LRMH is under the direction of Isabelle Pallot-Frossard and is one of four administrations in charge of Lascaux.

  • The le Figaro article reflects the new alarming message of the Monumental dossier which promotes the notion of preventive conservation around Lascaux without addressing the causes or possible remedies to the yet unsolved and still critical conservation crisis. Of note, is the refusal of authorities to remove the ill-fitted air machine and replace it with one based on the operation of the old air-circulation machine and their lack of attention to the black spots now covering the cave’s walls and some of its paintings.

 

The ICPL:
The International Committee for the Preservation of Lascaux is dedicated to preserving the original, prehistoric paintings in the cave of Lascaux. The ICPL works to raise public awareness of the rapid deterioration of the cave and its irreplaceable art; to initiate public action in efforts to safeguard Lascaux for future generations and to actively engage professionals from all fields of conservation in the preservation of the cave and its paintings.

It is our belief that the art of Lascaux is a legacy belonging to all mankind. The cave’s discovery in 1940 redefined what was previously known about our creative development as human beings and our ability to construct image from abstract thought. This critical leap, and its resulting tangible evidence, is invaluable to understanding our global human heritage.
ICPL
continues to call for a truly independent, international committee of scientists and experts in cave art and its conservation to monitor and report to the world on Lascaux and its health.


12 December 2006

 

The situation in Lascaux remains critical. The cave is now under additional stress brought by the rapid explosion of black spots which are now appearing where the roots of the fungus fusarium have been mechanically removed. The black spots are spreading on all surfaces of the cave which are not covered with white calcite. This includes the paintings and engravings. The white calcite has turned gray.

Most components of the new ill-conceived air machine have been shut down. It is now working only on a minimal basis. By shutting down major portions of the new machine, authorities are trying to mimic the functions of the previous, highly successful air-recirculation machine which worked symbiotically with the cave’s natural air currents. However, the new machine was not built to operate with the sensitivity of the old machine and was designed to completely ignore the flow of Lascaux’s natural air currents. The recent, rapid growth of black spots on the walls and ceilings of cave and the formation of new calcite over some of the paintings illustrate the failure of the new air machine to stabilize the cave. Indeed, it is the main factor in the cave’s current destabilization.

A new rhetoric is being floated by French authorities in an effort to remove them from any accountability. They are now suggesting that Lascaux has always been sick and this latest crisis is simply another episode of a chronic condition.

There continues to be little supervision or oversight by those charged with the care of Lascaux.

 

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16 August 2006

The current crisis in Lascaux, proliferation of fusarium in the cave attacking its 17,000 year old paintings and walls, has gained international attention in recent months due to a TIME Europe magazine piece and subsequent press articles. However, French authorities continue to mislead the public as to what happened and what is now happening inside the cave.

World-Wide Attention Drawn to Lascaux


**The May 15, 2006 issue of TIME Europe featured an exclusive cover story on the crisis in Lascaux exposing the cover-up by the French authorities about the contamination of the cave’s prehistoric paintings. The story was published in the United States edition of TIME in June.

Current Conditions in the Cave

  • New colonies of black spots have appeared in large numbers in the entrance of the cave. They have not been reported for analysis.

  • Calcite is growing on some of the paintings as well as on non-painted surfaces.

  • Some color tones are fading.

  • In the Hall of the Bulls, pieces of the calcified ledges have broken off. The prehistoric pigments which had dripped on them have disappeared.

  • Workers are still unsupervised in the cave.

  • Ladders of the workers lean against the walls (un-painted) breaking some calcified ledges.

  • Too many workers are inside the cave for too much time. Currently, there are three to four people (the survey team and the art restorers) three times a week for the entire day. Their work requires extra lighting. Peaks of temperature have been recorded. Specific data are readily available to the authorities on the number of people and the length of stay that the cave can tolerate. Five to six people per day for 35 to 40 minutes have no impact on the temperature of the cave. Studies have shown that any number of people over this amount and any extended lengths of time have immediate negative impact on the cave.

  • The removal of the lime from the cave’s floor (poured by authorities in 2001 in an ill-advised attempt to stop the fusarium) required digging. The floor surface of the cave is impacted and “dug out” in places.
Critical Issues Remain
  • Lack of scientific follow-up. Specialists, like microbiologists, come only twice a year.

  • French authorities continue to mislead the public on the condition of the cave and its paintings. (See below)

  • The new adverse air-conditioning machine, which is still in place and operating, is less refined than the original machine. There is no ability for fine regulation of the climate inside the cave.

  • The art restorers continue to manually remove fungus from the affected paintings. However, as the fungus is removed, dark and gray spots are left. Without, meticulous photographic documentation, there is no way for future researchers to know if the dark spots are left by the contemporary fusarium removal or if they existed at the time of the cave’s discovery. It is imperative that an accessible body of photographic history, not only of current work inside the cave, but also past historic photographs of the cave, be readily available for comparative study.

Exposing the Cover-Up

TIME Paris Bureau Chief, James Graff, wrote an excellent article, “Saving Beauty”, after thorough investigation, interviews and a personal visit inside the cave. Graff chronicles the Lascaux crisis from the first invasion of fungus through the steps and missteps of the authorities to the present. There is a vivid photograph of fungus growing on one of the prehistoric paintings. While some success has been noticed with the slowing down of fungus growth, one member of the French appointed Scientific Committee of Lascaux Cave, told TIME: “They tell us the cave’s condition is stable. But that is what they say about Ariel Sharon.”

In June, Jean-Michel Geneste, curator of Lascaux, told the Wall Street Journal exactly that: “Now the situation is stable”. Wall Street Journal reporter Lee Rosenbaum writes Geneste stated explicitly, “There is no damage to the paintings.” and asserted the growth of fungi has “disappeared naturally from the paintings.”

But one must ask: If the fungi have “disappeared naturally”, why are restorers in the cave three days a week manually removing the fungi by its roots? And, how can one say the paintings have not been damaged when the root extractions leave dark marks and circles on the paintings? Clearly, the public is not being told the truth about the state of Lascaux.

The ICPL:
The International Committee for the Preservation of Lascaux is dedicated to preserving the original, prehistoric paintings in the cave of Lascaux. The ICPL works to raise public awareness of the rapid deterioration of the cave and its irreplaceable art; to initiate public action in efforts to safeguard Lascaux for future generations and to actively engage professionals from all fields of conservation in the preservation of the cave and its paintings.

It is our belief that the art of Lascaux is a legacy belonging to all mankind. The cave’s discovery in 1940 redefined what was previously known about our creative development as human beings and our ability to construct image from abstract thought. This critical leap, and its resulting tangible evidence, is invaluable to understanding our global human heritage.
International Committee for the Preservation of Lascaux (ICPL)
and other concerned citizens, wrote the French Ambassador to the United States, Jean-David Levitte, following publication of the TIME article urging the French government to take immediate action to remedy the situation in Lascaux. The official response, while polite, was dismissive with no assurances that the government would do anything but maintain its current course blaming much of the degradation on the “first two decades of intensive frequenting of the cave”. Levitte also added it is “highly probable that global warming has fostered the explosion of molds and bacteria in the cave.”

However, it must be noted that Lascaux was stable and free of fungus for more than two decades until lichens were found growing in 1998. The French authorities took no action then and proceeded with the invasive installation of an ill-fitted air conditioning system in 2000 which began the huge proliferation of fungus growth inside the cave on painted and unpainted surfaces.

The TIME article was picked up by many news organizations around the world and much attention has been focused on Lascaux and its critical state. There is a link to the TIME article in its entirety on the ICPL’s website at www.savelascaux.org. Unfortunately, to date, the French press has remained silent.

The ICPL continues to call for a truly independent, international committee of scientists and experts in cave art and its conservation to monitor and report to the world on Lascaux and its health.

 

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