The Discovery

Uncovering an Incomparable Cave

In September of 1940, four teenage boys discovered a deep depression left by a fallen tree in the woods near Montignac, a village in southwestern France. After clearing away the debris, they found a shaft leading to an underground chamber.

Descending into the shaft, they lit an oil lamp and began to explore…quickly realizing that they weren’t the first humans to discover the cave. The youngest boy, Jacques Marsal, later remarked, “We saw a cavalcade of animals larger than life painted on the walls and ceiling of the cave. Each animal seemed to be moving.”

Word of the prehistoric paintings spread as historians, photographers, and filmmakers flocked to record the cavern’s contents.

Nearly 2,000 painted and engraved figures—as well as hundreds of Paleolithic objects—were catalogued throughout the complex cave system. But modern human traffic began to take its toll, and after a series of conservation crises, the cave was closed to the public in 1963.

Today, access is limited to a handful of researchers each year. But visitors can experience the paintings through a recreation of two chambers next door to the original cave, and through the exhibition Scenes from the Stone Age: The Cave Paintings of Lascaux, which features five never-before-reproduced panels.