Tens thousands years or more of storms had come and gone in the southwestern corner of France and each had taken their toll. This particular one had knocked over a cluster of trees leaving a gaping maw in the ground. And it was done this hole that four treasure-seeking teenagers and their dog peered 66 years ago today. Descending into the darkness, they raised their lantern and light filled a cavern hidden from human eyes since Europe ended its last struggles with the ebb and flow of massive ice sheets.
Silent herds of aurochs stampeded across the halls in the half-light, beneath a land that had not felt their hooves in millennia. Cats, long since banished from the tamed fields prowled the walls and horses, migrants from the distant North America bucked and leapt under the lamp’s beam. Even the rudiments of a star map have been identified in recent years. This was Lascaux, one of Europe’s earliest galleries or cathedrals, depending on who you ask. But the most stirring element to me, amid the splendor, haloed in ochre are the intimate signatures of artists or priests; palm prints preserved alongside their paintings or prayers.
In modern times, scientists and philosophers have tried to capture what trait or moment defined modern mankind; among these have been offered fire, tools, language, religion and art. While many of these are under siege by our more clever companions on this planet, Lascaux was certainly a beautiful illustration of many of these traits merging.