The Painters

The People who Painted Lascaux

Nearly 20,000 years ago, Cro-Magnon people first began entering Lascaux and leaving behind a record of their existence—weapons, ornaments, tools, and cave art. But these weren’t knuckle-dragging “cave men”— they were early Homo sapiens just like us.

Sophisticated hunters and gatherers, these men and women lived in a structured society with a much more refined culture than most of us would imagine. They explored artistic expression and made creative decisions—pursuits that set them apart from their predecessors.

Artifacts within and nearby Lascaux tell us about the local lifestyle of our early ancestors. As mobile hunter-gatherers, they lived in temporary wooden-framed huts, not caves, which were reserved for ritual use. Their diet consisted of roots, fruits, berries, fish, eggs, birds, bison, and horses, but about 80% of their meat came from reindeer.

In fact, reindeer provided many of the materials needed for basic living. Families burned reindeer fat in limestone lamps for light, made hides into clothing and coverings for huts, and fashioned bones into buttons, needles, and more. Together, these artifacts give us a glimpse into the technological innovation and creativity that arose within early human societies.