Monday, December 10, 2007

New preservation issues at Lascaux

The NY Times has an informative piece on a new fungus threat to the parietal paintings of Lascaux Cave, France.

The new fungus can be seen in the black patches above the horns.

No consensus has emerged among experts over whether the invading patches of gray and black mold are the result of climate change, a defective temperature control system, the light used by researchers or the carbon dioxide exhaled by visitors.
This follows on the heels of the unprecedented proliferation of Fusarium solani on sections of the cave's wall in 2001, following the installation of a new ventilation system at the site.
The new problem at Lascaux, however, does not appear to be linked to the fusarium fungus. Described by experts as black stains, the blemishes are in fact both gray and black. “They vary from a few millimeters to 4 centimeters,” said Mr. Geneste, noting that most are found in the passages where the rocks are most porous and paintings had faded the most long before modern man entered. While only a few stains have affected the paintings, they have now been found in some 70 different spots.
I didn't really buy the link the author tries to draw between this problem and global warming, although I'm sure it's not helping in the least. The situation appears a bit more complex and multifaceted, though thankfully less alarming than in 2001. Nonetheless, these preservation problems constitute, in a way, an archaeological tragedy, and not only because of the public's awareness of the site, its paintings and its Paleolithic age. Rather, it drives home the point that such caves are extremely scarce resources that need the utmost care if they are to be preserved for future generations and renewed scientific study. It also highlights just how fragile rock art can be, thus underscoring just how much of this archaeological material must have been lost over time. I certainly hope the responsible authorities will be able to promptly get this latest 'outbreak' under control.

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