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article imageIce Age Art In Jeopardy

By Debra Myers     Jan 5, 2008 in Science
In the Dordogne region of southwest France, lies a cave that houses Ice Age art dating back some 17,000 years ago. The walls and the art on them are now being consumed by bacteria and an unidentified black fungus.
London - Discovered in 1940 by four teens who had followed their dog into an opening under the roots of a fallen pine tree, Lascaux cave is known as "the Sistine Chapel of pre-history".
Lascaux has a big entrance chamber and two smaller "galleries" which have been named 'the Great Hall of the Bulls and the Painted Gallery'. On the walls of these chambers are some 1500 engravings and 600 drawings that were done in colored mineral pigments of yellow, red and black. There are "extraordinary images of bulls, deer and horses" which have endured since the last ice age.
Now, the very survival of these paintings which are felt to be the most important in the world, is in question. In recent times, an air-circulation system was installed to move air currents in the cave in an effort to preserve the art, but instead it's believed to have helped spread a fungal infection that threatens to devour the etchings and paintings. At this time, it is unknown what kind of fungus this is which is hampering the ability to find a proper course of treatment.
Paul Bahn, Britain's foremost specialist in Ice Age art, said water could be seen running down the paintings, while black spots - some as large as a hand - were spreading across the walls and some of the paintings.
Dr. Bahn has asked the French Government to help. "The scandal of Lascaux cave is growing every day," he said.
Worldwide, there are 600 locations that are considered UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This means that governments recognize their obligation to care for their heritage, under the 1972 World Heritage Convention.
In a letter to UNESCO director Francesco Bandarin, Dr Bahn wrote of his "profound dismay and anxiety concerning the state of the cave". He condemned the "fateful decision" to renew and update the cave's electrical installations.
"The results of this bungled work have been catastrophic for the well being and stability of the cave and its art. And despite the constant reassurances from the French Establishment, it is well known among specialists - who are receiving information from better informed or more objective sources - that the situation in the cave remains appallingly bad, and indeed is getting worse," he wrote.
I hope that something can be done to reverse the effects of this fungus and so that this art can be preserved for the generations ahead.
More about Ice age, Cave art, Fungus
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