In September 1940, four teenage boys set out to try and find a secret passageway rumored to exist near their French village. What they discovered was a cave system decorated with hundreds of paintings of prehistoric animals. They’d found the 17,000-year-old Lascaux cave paintings, now famous the world over.
ICE AGE HERDS
Lascaux was painted during the ice age, when northern Europe was buried under sheets of ice but France was a treeless, windswept tundra, crossed by huge herds of wild animals. The people who painted the cave were hunters, but, oddly, they didn’t paint their favorite prey—caribou.
ON THE RUN
Stags and horses are among the most common animals in Lascaux. Many appear to be moving, as though running in herds. Such animals migrated across the tundra during the last ice age, just as caribou do today.
The Lascaux animals include prehistoric species that no longer exist, such as mammoths and the aurochs (the wild ancestor of the domestic cow, shown above with huge horns). There are also lions, bison, hundreds of horses, stags, one bear, and one rhino.
Lascaux is just one of several painted caves found in France and Spain. Chauvet Cave in southern France contains paintings up to 30,000 years old and features predators such as lions, hyenas, panthers, and bears, as well as mammoths and rhinos.
Prehistoric artists created handprints by placing a hand on the cave wall and spitting red ocher all over it.