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Cave Paintings at Lascaux, France

Lascaux Cave Paintings, courtesy Prof Saxx

Cave paintings are the first known drawings made around 15,000 to 10,000 B.C. Many of these paintings were found in Spain and France. The discovery of the famous cave painting, The Black Bull, was made by two boys playing with their dogs in the hills of Lascaux, France. The dogs disappeared but the boys could hear them barking in the caves. The boys followed the sounds in the dark. What they found in the caves, while searching for the dogs, were works of art scratched into the rocks as drawings and paintings on the walls. Most of the paintings are of animals, and painted with charcoal or with available minerals such as red chalk and manganese ore.

Questions to Ask

What is the first thing that you see? This is the focal point. The focal point is what first draws your eye, something that stands out.

What animals do you see? Almost all of the paintings are of animals. It was not believed that animals were painted because they were hunted for food, but perhaps these people feared these animals, or the paintings of the animals gave them power of life or death, over animals, and that there was magic in the paintings which helped them to secure food, clothing, and tools.

Why do you think they painted a bull? What other animals do you think they painted? Hint — bison, horses, mammoths, and antelope.

What colors were used? Paints were made from grinding minerals to powder and then mixing them with liquids, such as egg whites. Colors used were very neutral, black, and an occasional red chalk.

Did the artists have art stores to buy their paints and brushes? No. The artists used stones as sketch pads and applied color with brushed made from frayed sticks, moss, and fur. They used a long flat bone for their palette.

Do you think it was easy to paint on bumpy rocks?

How do you think the artists may have made their paints?

What is a secret? The boys that found this cave and the paintings kept it a secret for six days before they told their teacher. Do you think you could keep a secret for six days or would you have told someone sooner?

Activities for the Classroom

Additional Kid Friendly Resources at the AHML are "Mystery of the Lascaux Cave" by Dorthy Hinshaw Patent and "The cave painter of Lascaux" by Roberta Angeletti.

During the presentation play a CD in the background with cave sounds or animal sounds.

Provide crumpled brown paper, burlap, stones, etc. Using charcoal pencils or crayons, ask the students to the draw their own cave painting. This can be done inside or outside. Renind them to only use neutral colors!

Hang pictures of various cave paintings around the room. Provide each student or groups of students, with a flashlight and turn the light in the classroom off. Then ask the students to search the room for the cave paintings. Ask them to describe what they see.

Using blankets, tents, pillows, etc. create tents in the classrooms. Ask the students to crawl into the tents and either look at cave paintings that are hung on the walls, or have them create their own painting while in the tent.

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