The world-famous bulls, horses, and reindeer in France’s Lascaux cave have survived in pristine condition for 17,000 years, but they may be history soon.
Priceless cave art in different parts of the world is suffering from the inadvertent actions of tourists who come to see it, and officials are struggling to find solutions. In southern France, the Lascaux paintings display some of the best examples of Paleolithic art in the world, showing a working knowledge of artistic perspective that was not seen again in Europe until the Renaissance. But since the introduction of tourists into the cave in the 1940s, the paintings have suffered damage from elevated carbon dioxide levels, white fungus, and light, all of which have been brought in unwittingly by visitors, said a recent article in the Washington Postarticle in the Washington Post.
And in China, Buddhist monk art dating to the fourth century at Mogaoku has become damaged from fluctuations in humidity, according to the New York Times. “Plans for drastic remedial action are underway,” said Holland Cotter, the article’s author. The caves’ director is initiating the building of a visitors center where tourists will see a digital tour of the caves before going to visit a more limited part of the site in person. But “it is possible that without major change, all the caves will eventually have to be closed to the public,” said Cotter. The Lascaux cave has been closed since 1963.
The restriction of such sites raises a hairy conundrum: Since these places have such immense cultural value, most agree that the public has a right to access them (Both Lascaux and Mogaoku are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites). But when access comes at a cost of damage to the site, where should the line be drawn between public access and preservation? Says the New York Times:
This insistence on authenticity is also the impulse driving contemporary conservation. At whatever cost, the integrity of the original must be preserved. Yet conservators know that often the only way to protect the “real thing” is by restricting access to it, by forcing an audience to accept a condition of not being there, by substituting virtual auras for actual ones. And so the contradictions pile up…
What do you think? Should officials let the public visit these sites, or make the preservation of the paintings their first priority?
Photo courtesy of efrancesco via Flickr
- Nat Geo Expeditions