Lascaux: Movement, Space and Time

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9780810959002: Lascaux: Movement, Space and Time

A photographic and scientific tour of the cave of Lascaux, a treasure trove of ancient wall paintings that was discovered by chance in 1940, discusses what the cave reveals about the Old Stone Age and its animal world of some 18,000 years ago. 15,000 first printing.

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Norbert Aujoulat's definitive book on the Lascaux caves in France, the artistic masterpiece of the Old Stone Age, is the next best thing to being there. That's handy, since you can't go there yourself. Only a few scientists are permitted to visit Lascaux anymore, most eminent among them the author, who heads the parietal art department at the National Center of Prehistory. With impressive authority, he eIaborates the geology, archaeology, and ethology of the site so famously discovered by two spelunking teenagers in 1940, 18,000 years after the cave's heyday. In a way, the book is like the cave itself: a bit daunting, but enormously rewarding the effort. You must traverse great stalagmites of thoroughgoing scientific text translated from French, and are rewarded by enormous vistas of animals painted and scratched on the vast stone walls—262 color illustrations of the most important of the 1,963 images in the cave, including 915 animals and one human.

Aujoulat isn't just a collector of facts, he's a shrewd deducer. Although some naïve early viewers thought the oddly short-legged horses on the walls indicated the Lascaux artists were stylizing what they saw (or ineptly rendering it), Aujoulat uses photographs of modern wild horses to show that the horses were accurately depicted during the cold season when their winter coats changed their shape. Noting that the species appear in order—horse, auroch, stag—he notes that each is depicted during its mating season (respectively winter, summer, and fall). Apparently, the cave symbolized the sky, and the animals represented the cycle of seasons and the creation of life. One wishes Aujoulat had relaxed his scientific rigor just enough to speculate about what these stunning images might have meant to our ancestors, but his job is to explain precisely how they made the art and the natural causes of the stony canvas. --Tim Appelo

About the Author:

Norbert Aujoulat is the departmental head of parietal art at the National Center of Prehistory in France.

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