Archaeologists date the cave paintings at Lascaux, France, to about 14000 BCE.

Illustration by Jack Unruh, National Geographic

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  • On Sept. 12, 1940, four teenagers accidentally discovered a collection of prehistoric paintings in the Lascaux cave system, near Montignac, France. The Lascaux cave paintings depict large game animals, many of which are now extinct—aurochs, horses, rhinos, Megaloceros (giant deer), and cave hyenas.

    Archaeologists have dated the paintings at Lascaux to about 14000 BCE. Anthropologists think the cave may have been used as a gathering place for hunting and religious ceremonies. Tourists visited the caves until 1963, when scientists became concerned that artificial light and carbon dioxide (the breath of millions of tourists) were destroying the delicate artwork.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    anthropologist Noun

    person who studies cultures and characteristics of communities and civilizations.

    archaeologist Noun

    person who studies artifacts and lifestyles of ancient cultures.

    carbon dioxide Noun

    greenhouse gas produced by animals during respiration and used by plants during photosynthesis. Carbon dioxide is also the byproduct of burning fossil fuels.

    cave Noun

    underground chamber that opens to the surface. Cave entrances can be on land or in water.

    delicate Adjective

    fragile or easily damaged.

    extinct Adjective

    no longer existing.

    game Noun

    wild animals hunted for food.

    hunt Verb

    to pursue and kill an animal, usually for food.

    prehistoric Adjective

    period of time that occurred before the invention of written records.

    tourist Noun

    person who travels for pleasure.