The prehistoric cave paintings of Lescaux, France, have been a wonder that millions have gone to see. The paintings of animals and other objects were painted with meticulous care by people living in the region 18,000 years ago. The cave paintings became a Unesco World Heritage treasure since 1979.
However, by 1963, scientists had discovered that the throngs of tourists breathing and bringing in moist air were ruining the fragile microclimate of the cave and endangering the art. The French closed off the caves, but always wanted to find some way to make the artwork accessible to the public again. Finally, they decided a few years ago to reproduce the paintings and show them in a special museum in the same area, in the Dordogne region of France.
It took three years for artists make faithful copies of the artwork, engraving, sculpting, chiseling by hand and using small paintbrushes, even some tools used in dentistry. The art experts are now transporting 46 separate segments that make up the full copy of the Lescaux paintings and putting them in a semi-buried hillside in Montiganac, near the cave where the Lescaux paintings were found.
There are almost 2,000 cave paintings of rhinos, horses, deer, bison and panthers. The artists said they were humbled by the experience of re-creating the artwork.
“They are extraordinary technicians,” Francis Ringback, artistic director of the project told The Guardian newspaper. “Reproducing animal likenesses from memory and with their highly vivid movements.”
The end product will look as much like the real thing as possible. It will have the same darkness, smells, humidity and temperature. Visitors even will be greeted by a sounds of a dog barking, which was what the caves discoverers first heard in 1940.
The $63,168 million dollar project used cutting-edge technology to mirror the original as closely as possible. Three-dimensional scans were projected on walls, which let artists “trace” the originals using natural pigments. This is the second life-size replica of ancient cave paintings to be completed in a year in France. Before this project, President Francois Hollande inaugurated a facsimile of Grotte Chalet, containing prehistoric art dating back 36,000 years.