The French government is taking emergency action to rescue the world's most celebrated prehistoric cave paintings from a second fungal invasion in seven years. Each day until 8 January, experts are treating the caverns at Lascaux in the Dordogne – nicknamed the Sistine Chapel of pre-history – with a fungicide to try to check a gradual spread of spots of grey and black mould, The Independent reports. An air conditioning system, installed just before a similar fungal attack seven years ago, is to be replaced. Some scientists believe the introduction of the machinery was misconceived and may be partially responsible for the fungal invasions. Other experts blame global warming for increasing the temperature in the caves. Others point to an increased level of human activity in the caverns as part of an ambitious attempt to create an exact computerised record in three dimensions of the 17,000-year-old paintings of bison, wild cattle, deer and other animals.
Whatever the explanation, the French government has decided to take no risks and to accept the advice of a committee of experts which met at Lascaux, in south-western France, just before Christmas. The fungicide will be sprayed on the stricken areas of the cave walls. The three-dimensional survey will be halted. No public visits to Lascaux have been allowed since 1963 but almost all visits by scientists and historians will be banned for at least three months. The Lascaux paintings were discovered in September 1940. The 600 images of bison, horses, wild cattle and ibexes, some at rest, some running or jumping, are regarded as among the finest cave paintings in the world. It is thought that they were painted between 15,000 and 17,000 years ago by hunter-gathering people who crushed minerals to create drawings in red, ochre, brown and black.