Photographs dating back

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The Paleolithic scholar Andre Leroi-Gourhan believes that Lascaux was decorated between the end of Solutrean art and the beginning of Magdalenian art (c.15,000-13,000 BCE).

According to Leroi-Gourhan, the style of Lascaux's paintings was consistent with other art discovered during this period.

In total, Lascaux's galleries and passageways - extending about 240 metres in length - contain some 2,000 images, about 900 of which are animals, and the remainder geometric symbols of varying shapes.

The sheer number of images, their size and exceptional realism, as well as their spectacular colours, is why Lascaux (like Altamira) is sometimes referred to as "The Sistine Chapel of Prehistory".

(See also the magnificent bison paintings at Font de Gaume Cave in the Perigord.)Discovered in 1940, close to the village of Montignac, in the Dordogne region of southwestern France, Lascaux is especially famous for its painting, which includes a rare example of a human figure; the largest single image ever found in a prehistoric cave (the Great Black Bull); and a quantity of mysterious abstract signs, which have yet to be deciphered.

Its most famous chambers include the "Hall of the Bulls", the "Axial Gallery", the "Apse" and the "Shaft".

Not long after its opening in 1948, Pablo Picasso paid a visit and was amazed at the quality of the cave's rock art, saying that man had learned nothing new since then.

It is now established that the cave interior closest to the entrance - including the Hall of the Bulls and the Painted Gallery - would have been bright enough to work by for about one hour, for several days each year.

Chronological questions about the age of Lascaux's cave paintings, over what period they were created, and the identity of the oldest art in the complex, are still being debated.

By 1955, much of the cave's parietal art was beginning to deteriorate due to the amount of carbon dioxide exhaled by the 1200 daily visitors, and other environmental problems. As a result, in 1963 the site was closed to the public.

Since then, more threats to the integrity of Lascaux's cave paintings have been caused by microbial and fungal growths.

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