A painting of a black cow from Lascaux.
  • Philippe Psaila
  • A painting of a black cow from Lascaux

Sometime in the early 1940s, three boys and a dog discovered a series of caves near the village of Lascaux, in the Dordogne region of southwestern France. Actually, the dog made the discovery; the boys just followed him. On the walls of the caves they found more than 600 paintings, mostly of animals, executed in manganese and iron salt and ocher, and hundreds more engravings.

The paintings became a subject of fascination to anthropologists and prehistorians. Who had made them? And when? And why? And could they be the first examples of art in all of human history?

Alas, within 20 years, the caves had become so overrun with curious visitors that the human activity was starting to affect the paintings: there was an outbreak of mold. And so, in 1963, the caves were closed except to those with a professional interest in the paintings. Everybody else had to go see a series of replicas that were on display nearby at an exhibit known as “Lascaux II.”

Just so nobody felt cheated, researchers took pains to make sure that the copies were as exact as possible, from the drawings themselves to the textured surfaces they were sketched on. And now, for the first time, replicas of the Lascaux paintings will be in the United States and on display at the Field Museum as “Scenes From the Stone Age: The Cave Paintings of Lascaux,” starting next Wednesday, 3/20, and running through 9/8.