The cave of Lascaux, with its Upper Paleolithic wall-paintings, dating probably from the Solutrean epoch (21 to 18 thousand years ago), is located in the Dordogne department of south-west France, in the ancient province of Aquitaine. To avoid damage through pollution, the main cave, referred to as Lascaux I, has been permanently closed to sightseers ever since 1963, but they have been able to visit a nearby replica known as Lascaux II.
A year ago, the authorities were alarmed by the discovery of black mold in certain parts of the cave system, and it was recently decided to ban all humans from Lascaux I for a period of three months, while the moldy areas were treated with a biocidal product. Although the outcome has been encouraging, Unesco has nevertheless presented France with an ultimatum. If the mold is not totally eradicated within a year, the caves could be added to the dishonorable list of World Heritage entities in peril.
Last Friday, the French minister of Culture, Christine Albanel, visited the site and outlined a draconian program of "vigilance" designed to get rid of the black mold. In the commune of Montignac, the entire hill where the caves are located is to become a sanctuary, with the prohibition of all human construction and the gradual purchase by the state of all the surrounding land. Vehicles will no longer be allowed to park near Lascaux II, whose visitors will be obliged to access the replica cave on foot. Finally, Unesco has asked France to organize an international colloquium of experts, early next year, to examine the challenges of preserving Europe's prehistoric wall paintings.