The discovery of Lascaux
This story takes place in 1940. To give more context, it was right at the start of the war.
Sunday, 8 September 1940 starts with a boy called Marcel Ravidat, nicknamed “Le Bagnard” (the Convict), who, with his friends, discovered the entrance to the Lascaux Cave. On this day, he had gone after his dog, which had chased a fox or a rabbit, when a stone rolled under his foot and, tumbling down into this little hole, made an echo that brought everyone running. And so, the little group gathered around the hole and immediately thought back to the legend that had been told for generations, a story of an underground passage that was said to exist between Montignac castle and a manor house, just at the foot of the hill, known as the Lascaux Manor. Alas, they were not able to explore that day as they didn’t have a lamp. They left, saying “we’ll see later but we need to go back and explore this famous underground passage”. Because as far as they knew, it was an underground passage.
Four days later, Marcel Ravidat, him again, fashioned himself a lamp and a knife, but none of his friends wanted come along. On the way, he met three other boys from the village – Jacques Marsal, Georges Agnelle and Simon Coincas – so he roped them in. And so it was these four who simply unblocked the entrance. It took them a good hour to do it. Because they couldn’t get through at all. They could reach in an arm, but not much else. By clearing the entrance, it was Ravidat who succeeded in making his way in head first. And all four set to exploring the first large hall little by little. The first time, they didn’t notice that they were walking under immense bulls of more than four or five metres. So the first painting that they saw was the red cow with a black head that is to the left at the entrance of the Axial Gallery. Then, all of a sudden, they came to discovery upon discovery on the walls: a bull here, a horse there, a line of deer, it goes on. The initial shock for them was aesthetic. And there was a second to come that I refer to as a mystical or cultural shock. What was it? They didn’t know. On the other hand, the images spoke to them. There were bulls, horses, deer, animals that they recognised. But they had no idea of the age or why they were there. So they tried to keep the cave a secret. The idea was to go to their old teacher, Léon Laval, who immediately recognised the site as prehistoric.
Laval said that they had to speak to Abbé Breuil, who was the greatest expert in prehistory of the era. On 21 September, barely nine or ten days after the discovery, the cave was authenticated by Abbé Breuil, which was fantastic luck! In the ensuing hubbub, crowds of journalists arrived to make it national and even international news.