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Lascaux cave paintings speak volumes in Field Museum exhibit

Almost exact recreations caves Lascaux 'Scenes from Stone Age: The Cave Paintings Lascaux.' new exhibit Field Museum. Monday March 18

Almost exact recreations of the caves of Lascaux in the "Scenes from the Stone Age: The Cave Paintings of Lascaux.", a new exhibit at the Field Museum. Monday, March 18, 2013 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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‘Scenes from the Stone Age: The Cave Paintings of Lascaux’

♦ Through Sept. 8

♦ Field Museum, 1400 South Lake Shore Drive

♦ Tickets are included in the Discovery ($16-$23) and All-Access ($21-$30) passes to the museum

♦ (312) 922-9410;

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Updated: March 20, 2013 6:45PM

Four French teenagers mucking around in the woods in September 1940 stumbled upon a world treasure — a cave filled with exquisitely preserved drawings created by nomads nearly 20,000 years ago.

Opened after having been sealed off for centuries by a rock slide, the cave paintings of Lascaux (Lass-KOH) were seen by more than a million people between 1948 and 1963. But the visitors’ footfalls destroyed ancient footprints; their breath caused fungus to develop. The French government shut down the site to preserve the ancient paintings, considered the world’s most well-preserved example of prehistoric art.

Now, a traveling exhibit, “Scenes from the Stone Age: The Cave Paintings of Lascaux,” at the Field Museum, brings the ancient cave paintings to Chicago.

The caves are now closed to the public, so only guests of the French government can get in to see the actual paintings, created between 18,000 and 16,000 years ago. Across the road from the Caves of Lascaux is a replica, known as Lascaux II, that is open to the public. The traveling exhibit at the Field, which shows cave walls accurately reproduced within two millimeters, is known as Lascaux 3.

While the animal images are fairly obvious — bison, deer, birds — the meaning behind much of the symbolism in the art is still unknown.

Kids will like the interactive computers and the dim walk through the replicated caves. They might also be interested in knowing that the children of the Magdalenian period (17,000 to 11,000 years ago) had a hand in creating some of the art, said Robert Martin, the Field’s curator of biological anthropology.

“It was the equivalent of modern graffiti,” he said.

Anna Altschwager, Field exhibition project manager, said that those creating these mysterious paintings and etchings weren’t some alternate caveman species.

“It’s you and me,” she said. “It’s a rich, dynamic culture. These people are genetically identical to us.”

Included in the exhibit is “Magdalenian Woman,” a skeleton from the Field’s own collection. The skeleton was discovered 12 miles from the cave site, though she is believed to be 14,000 years old — younger than the cave paintings.

In the museum’s collection since 1926, museum staff had a Parisian artist recently recreate a three-dimensional replica of the woman’s face.

“Not only does she look real, she looks French,” Martin said.


♦ The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 North Cannon Drive, opens its largest exhibit of the year, “Food: The Nature of Eating,” on March 23. Drawing on the museum’s own collection, “Food” brings visitors through a prairie-covered Illinois, Union Stockyard Gates and modern-day Chicago, taking a look at the history of a wide array of culinary-related local customs, like bison burgers at Wrigley Field. For more information visit

♦ Afro-Beats! pairs the Fulcrum Point New Music Project ensemble with West African musicians and dancers for a family-friendly performance at 2 p.m. March 23 at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts. Afro-Beats! debuted in 2012 at the Harris Theater. The 75-minute performance features traditional Mandingo and African-American music.

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