Sarlat, France: Sunday, October 3, 8:30 a.m:
We waited for a half hour in the morning cold waiting to get into quite an exclusive cave. Even though it would turn out to be another 85 degree sunny day, the mornings were starting to get a lot colder. We huddled together for warmth outside the little ticket house. Only 50 tickets would be given to the first to arrive this morning. We had driven by car for 20 minutes, and woken up early especially for this. Why wait in line to see a cave? Why would only a certain number of people be allowed in? Well this wasn’t just any cave. This was the Font de Gaume in The Dordogne Valley of France. The Font de Gaume cave is the last cave containing prehistoric polychrome paintings which is still open to the public. The paintings date from around 15,000 BC. The flints and chisels found in the cave show prehistoric man had been here since the age of the Neanderthals. Discovered in 1901, the cave contains about 250 paintings but visitors can only see 30 of the most beautiful and best preserved. They limit the number of visitors to protect the paintings. Moisture and carbon dioxide from human breath can cause vegetation to grow over the paintings. Lascaux had to be closed permanently to visitors because of this. So at 9 am, groggy and tired, we finally were admitted in with a small group of 8 other people. As we walked up a dirt trail, a large rock loomed over us, casting a chilly shadow. We reached the entrance to the cave: A crack about 3 feet wide and 6 feet tall. As our tour filed into the cave, it got darker and darker and the ceilings became higher. Stalactites hung down low from the rock. We had to walk single file through the narrow twists and turns of the cave. We stopped short, and there in front of us, was an ancient cave drawing that was 15,000 years old. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The Cro-magnons who painted these pictures were our immediate ancestors. They didn’t live in the caves, but probably used them for councils or rituals. The animals painted were of the sort found in the local area, horses, reindeer and bison. What is so special with Font de Gaume is that the animals are carved, then painted inside the carving. It’s a great thing, because if the paint disappears, most of the carving can still be seen. We walked further and stopped outside a small outcropping. When we entered, we saw several different drawings of bison. There were 6 all together. Then, further in, we saw a painting of a reindeer grooming another reindeer. This was the last stop that we made. The main colors used in the cave are black, red and a brown color. The natural contours of the rock were used to emphasize the shape of the animals, very sophisticated for pre-historic man. One example of this was an incredible painting of a horse. The hind leg was just a painted piece of rock that was shaped like the hind leg of a horse. The artist obviously used the unusually shaped rock as his/her inspiration for the painting. There were also symbols painted and engraved whose meaning we have not yet discovered. We then walked back through the twists and turns of the cave, passing the drawings as we went. We were so inspired by our visit that we made some paintings of our own. I was greatly inspired by the people who made these ancient drawings. By pursuing to draw one of these paintings, I now greatly respect the time and effort that the Cro-magnons put into their art. I now realize just how hard it is, even with paper, a pencil and paint that I don’t have to make myself. Below are some of the cave paintings from Font de Gaume and our own drawings.