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French town probes 'second' Lascaux cave
One of the cave paintings at Lascaux in south-western France. Could a 50-year-old family secret help unveil a new prehistoric art gallery at nearby Montignac? Photo: ProfSaxx/Wikimedia

French town probes 'second' Lascaux cave

Published: 02 Jan 2014 10:50 GMT+01:00
Updated: 02 Jan 2014 12:07 GMT+01:00

Authorities in the southwestern French town of Montignac are investigating the extraordinary possibility that, just 4km from the famous Lascaux caves, there may exist another set of prehistoric paintings hidden away in a separate underground cavern.

A group of teenagers in the south west of France in 1940 stumble across what turns out to be a complex network of Paleolithic caves with a series of astonishing 17,000-year-old frescos, which becomes known as the “Sistine Chapel of the Prehistoric era.”

You might assume this type of thing only happens once in the same region, but authorities in the town of Montignac, Dordogne are probing the possibility of the existence of a second Lascaux cave.

The rumours of a second cave covered in pre-historic artwork have been circulating for years, but it appears local authorities are now ready to take them seriously after one local family shared an extraordinary secret they had kept to themselves for half a century.

According to French media reports this week, preliminary investigations by the town’s mayor, as well as authorities in the Dordogne region, have proved promising enough to warrant a more detailed probe into a patch of land 4 km from the site of the Lascaux caves.

“There’s no certainty, and we are still quite far from having the necessary evidence to confirm the existence of another decorated cave,” Montignac mayor Laurent Mathieu told French daily Le Figaro this week.

Despite that caution, however, Mathieu did confirm that the culture department of the Dordogne regional administration would soon be mapping out a 10-hectare area for “further research.”

This region will also be placed under surveillance, to prevent amateur archaeologists from conducting their own, unsupervised investigations.

The possibility of a second momentous discovery near the south-western town came about in August, when a local woman in her 70s approached Mathieu with an extraordinary claim.

She told him her husband – who died in August – had come across a cave with prehistoric frescos back in 1962, but covered the entrance back up, for fear of bringing hassle on himself, according to France Info radio.

The secret had stayed in the family for 51 years, until she finally shared it with the mayor.

The original cave art at Lascaux was found in 1940, and attracted hordes of visitors until it was closed to the public in 1983.

A partial set of detailed imitations located next to the original cave have since brought roughly 10 million visitors to the region, a result that politicians and residents in Montignac will be hoping they can replicate with a brand new set of prehistoric paintings.

A member of staff at the local tourist office told The Local on Thursday that the possibility of a second Lascaux cave was the topic of conversation on everyone's lips.

"The rumours have been around for a while, but everyone is talking about it now. For the moment we just don't know.

"The mayor believes the story but there are other archaeologists who doubt it. If a second cave was found it would be excellent for the region," she added.

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Dan MacGuill (dan.macguill@thelocal.com)

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