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17,000 years ago, the Lascaux painters offered the world a peerless work of art. However, according to a new theory, some of the paintings could also be the representations of the constellations as seen in the sky by our ancestors from the Magdalenian era. Such a hypothesis, confirmed in many others Paleolithic Caves, radically transforms our conception concerning prehistoric Rock Art, as well as the history of Astronomy. Actuality : 2009, International Year of Astronomy http://www.astronomy2009.org/

The Lascaux cave : a Prehistoric sky-map... Photos ŠStephane Begoin-Pascal Goetgheluck/LightMediation Text ŽPedro Lima Contact - Thierry Tinacci - LightMediation Photo Agency +33 (0)6 61 80 57 21 thierry@lightmediation.com

2039-01: Lascaux Cave. Cave painting in the hall of Bulls and paleolithic sky.

2039-01: Lascaux Cave. Cave painting in the hall of Bulls and paleolithic sky.

2039-02: Lascaux cave. Unicorn and Capricorn constellation scaled up according to Chantal Jégues-Wolkiewiez's works

2039-03: Lascaux cave. Auroch set in comparison with the constellation of the Lion according to Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez's studies.

2039-04: Lascaux cave. Auroch drawn over the constellation of the Bull according to Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez's studies.

2039-14: The sun shone into the cave of Lascaux on the evening of the summer solstice. This astronomical event might have been what made the inside of the cave sacred. Reconstitution.

2039-05: Lascaux cave. Horse set in comparison with the constellation of the Archer according to Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez's studies.

2039-06: Lascaux cave. Auroch set in comparison with the constellation of the Scorpion according to Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez's studies.

2039-07: Lascaux cave. Auroch set in comparison with the constellation of the Bull according to Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez's studies.

2039-08: Lascaux cave. 17.000 years ago, at the summer solstice, the sunrays reached the depths of the Hall of Bulls.

2039-28: Lascaux cave. Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez uses Astronomical software to prove her hypothesis.

2039-09: Lascaux cave. Auroch drawn over the constellation of the Bull according to Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez's studies.

2039-10: Lascaux Cave. Cave paintings in the hall of Bulls and paleolithic sky.

2039-11: Lascaux Cave. Cave paintings in the hall of Bulls and paleolithic sky.

2039-12: The sun shone into the cave of Lascaux on the evening of the summer solstice. This astronomical event might have been what made the inside of the cave sacred. Reconstitution.

2039-05: Lascaux cave. Horse set in comparison with the constellation of the Archer according to Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez's studies.

2039-17: Rock shelters used by prehistoric humans as living-places, near the Vézère River, Dordogne, France.

2039-18: Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez uses Astronomical software to prove her hypothesis.

2039-19: French independant ethno-astronomer Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez.

2039-20: Rock shelter from « Abri du Poisson », Dordogne, France

2039-24: The small bone from "Abri Blanchard", in the French Dordogne, with 69 engraved incisions made 32,000 years ago. A lunar calendar.

2039-13: The sun shone into the cave of Lascaux on the evening of the summer solstice. This astronomical event might have been what made the inside of the cave sacred. Reconstitution.

2039-14: The sun shone into the cave of Lascaux on the evening of the summer solstice. This astronomical event might have been what made the inside of the cave sacred. Reconstitution.

2039-15: French independant ethno-astronomer Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez in Lascaux.

2039-16: Rock shelters used by prehistoric humans as living-places, near the Vézère River, Dordogne, France.

2039-26: Cro-Magnon, the first astronomer.

2039-21: Panel in Lascaux depicts two bison standing back to back.

2039-22: Panel in Lascaux depicts two bison standing back to back. According to Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez theory, the eye of the bison on the right indicates 124° (position of the rising winter

2039-23: The "Venus of Laussel", a paleolithical statue from Dordogne, France, a lunar symbol?

2039-24: The small bone from "Abri Blanchard", in the French Dordogne, with 69 engraved incisions made 32,000 years ago. A lunar calendar.

2039-33: Paleolithical rock art in Lascaux, 17.000 years ago, the Unicorn.

2039-25: This chart shows, day by day, the point on the horizon where the moon set on the Paleolithical period. This coordinates match the tiny cupules, or cup marks, carved on the bone from "Abri Blanchard",

2039-26: Cro-Magnon, the first astronomer.

2039-27: Early Man was may be capable of making measurements of positions of stars, and to reproduce the exact positions of the constellations in the depths of the cave.

2039-28: Lascaux cave. Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez uses Astronomical software to prove her hypothesis.

2039-11: Lascaux Cave. Cave paintings in the hall of Bulls and paleolithic sky.

2039-29: Paiting in Lascaux representing a dying man. According to the theory of Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez, it is a paleolithical sky map.

2039-30: Paleolithical rock art in Lascaux, 17.000 years ago.

2039-31: Paleolithical rock art in Lascaux, 17.000 years ago.

2039-32: Paleolithical rock art in Lascaux, 17.000 years ago.

2039-18: Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez uses Astronomical software to prove her hypothesis.

2039-33: Paleolithical rock art in Lascaux, 17.000 years ago, the Unicorn.

2039-34: Winter landscape in the french Dordogne.

2039-35: Without measuring instruments, Palaeolithic man had observed position of the sun at solstices and equinoxes.

2039-36: Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez in the "Valley of Wonders", south of France. A 3700 years old bronze-age site where she also demonstrate the importance of astronomical orientations in the realisation

2039-22: Panel in Lascaux depicts two bison standing back to back. According to Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez theory, the eye of the bison on the right indicates 124° (position of the rising winter sun), the eye of the bison on the left is oriented at 56° (position of the rising summer sun). The two tails cross at 90° (rising spring and autumn suns).

2039-37: "Valley of Wonders", south of France. A 3700 years old bronze-age site where Chantal also demonstrate the importance of astronomical orientations in the realisation of engravings.

2039-38: In the "Valley of Wonders", south of France, a 3700 years old bronze-age site, Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez also demonstrate the importance of astronomical orientations in the realisation of

2039-39: Engraved dagger, In the "Valley of Wonders", south of France, a 3700 years old bronze-age site, where Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez also demonstrate the importance of astronomical orientations in

2039-40: Engraving In the "Valley of Wonders", south of France, a 3700 years old bronze-age site, Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez also demonstrate the importance of astronomical orientations in the

The Lascaux cave : a prehistoric sky-map... In the depths of an obscure cave, in what is now south of France, a group of men toiled, kneeling on earth in the faint light of oil lamps. With an extreme care, they prepared the mineral pigments they had just collected in the neighbouring area and smoothed their brushes made of hairs. Then, one of them rose and, with just a few precise strokes of the brush, gave birth to a magnificient brown-haired horse... 35,000 years ago, in Europe, tribes of hunter-gatherers invented a fascinating art form. An art populated with animals emerging from the depths of the earth : bulls, horses, deers... 17,000 years ago, in the heart of the Perigord region in France, they created their most fabulous masterpiece: Lascaux. When in the early 1940's, the world first set its eyes on the hundreds of Lascaux paintings, all the specialists gazed in wonder at what came to be considered as a "prehistoric Sistine Chapel". Prehistorians have offered all sorts of explanations for this Rock Art. And theories abound concerning its purpose: "hunting magic", totemism, shamanism. According to the shamanic theory, the paintings were the work of shamans whose responsibility it was to heal the clan, capture game and win the good graces of animal spirits.

Prehistoric Constellations

But according to a new and revolutionary theory, the genius painters of Lascaux must have been expert watchers of the heavens, as is suggested by the fact that several animals painted on the cave's walls actually correspond to existing constellations! This breathtaking discovery was first made public by Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez, a French independent ethno-astronomer. Looking at the numerous aurochs, horses and stags in the Great Hall of Bulls of Lascaux, i.e. the first room just after crossing the various doors protecting the cave from the outside weather conditions, she was able to recognize the zodiacal constellations of the paleolithical sky, that is to say those located in that part of the sky which from the earth, appears to be perpetually crossed by the sun. "One can recognize on the cave walls the stars forming the Capricorn, the Taurus and the Scorpio constellations" she declares. Could Lascaux be in fact a map of the sky? It is hard to believe as the first ascertained evidence of a genuine astronomical science is thought to date back to the Babylonian Era, that is to say about 5,000 years ago. A further fact seems to be debunking this astronomical theory; a myriad of similar more or less eccentic theories have already been proposed without ever being based on real evidence or genuine scientifical treatment. Yet this time, it has a much more serious flavour.

task, she was assisted by Jean-Michel Geneste, one of the best French archaelogists and also the curator of the Lascaux cave. "In the first months of the year 99, recalls Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez, I asked him the right to check on the spot a crucial fact that I had been mulling over after thorough examination of the cave's orientated maps. Could it be true that, at the time of the summer solstice, the rays of the setting sun would enter the cave and shine on the paintings in the Great Room of Bulls..." First measuring the orientation of the cave's entrance, which has not changed much since the Magdalenian days, then directly witnessing on June 19 that the cave's entrance was perfectly aligned on the course of the setting sun, Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez brought up a completely new way of understanding this site. The cave cannot have been chosen at random, quite the contrary in fact. They paintings were made so that, every summer a extraordinary illumination show would be performed when the sun came and shone on the walls of the main room. Starting from this observation, Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez attempted to verify her theory. If the paintings in this room, which has such a striking circular vault shape were designed according to this exceptionnal event, they could also and logically be linked to the structure of the sky over Lascaux, on this very summer night as the first stars appeared in the sky.

The Sunlight inside the Cave

A Map of the Prehistoric Sky

Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez, who in the past wrote a University thesis on the carvings of the "Valley of Wonders" near Nice, in the south of France, was allowed to carry out numerous orientation measurements of many paintings so as to verify the validity of her theory. For such a

First of all, to prove her point, she had to use a high-tech astronomical computer programme to reconstituate the map of the Magdalenian sky, that is to say a map showing what the sky looked like 17,000 years ago, the ascertained date of the Lascaux paintings through carbon 14

analysis. Then, by means of a high-precision compass, she performed numerous orientation measurements of the dots and lines representing the painted beasts. She was eventually able to compare the archaelogical data to the astronomical data, a tedious and complex study which now permits her to state for example, that the strange animal painted on the the left side of the cave wall of the Great Room, nicknamed the "Unicorn" by the specialists, is none other than the representation of today's constellation of the Capricorn, pointing as it perfectly does to its then position in Magdalenian times. Another striking example is that of the massive bull with a spreckled breast, a few metres away, corresponding to today's Scorpio, right in the middle of the Milky Way which could actually be represented by the many little dots on the bull's breast. "On the right-hand side of the cave's wall, facing due south, one can also recognize the Taurus constellation, complete with the stars clusters known as the Hyads and the Pleiads, in the shape of a bull (taurus in latin) and facing towards it",explains Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez before adding that several astronomers, especially American ones, have already suggested the idea that this particular constellation was very early linked to and called after the animal. Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez concludes, "the Lascaux painters had obviously observed the Zodiacal strip in the sky, that is to say the part of the sky which is perpetually crossed by the sun, and they linked the beasts they lived with and lived on, to the groups of stars they watched in the sky. Their paintings provide a clear evidence that they were expert watchers of the sky and that they were able to gather up these observations and inscribe them in the cave."

More evidences Various specialists, like Jean Michel Geneste, curator of the Lascaux Cave, and Jean Clottes, French Director of Prehistoric Antiquities and one of the best world specialists on Rock Art, asked Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez to research whether similar phenomena occurred in other caves similar to Lascaux. Indeed, she discovered more evidences for supporting her theory. First, she proved that the sunlight played the same role in 137 other painted caves as it did in Lascaux. Taking measurements in each cave, like Combarelles, Font-de-Gaume or Bernifal, she shown that these caves were aligned with the sunrise or sunset on key days of the year : solstices or equinoxes. Could Palaeolithic man have determined these points without measuring instruments? Absolutely. They could have used natural landmarks and observed the sun sliding along the horizon as the months went by, so keeping track of the changing seasons. At « Abri du Poisson » rock shelter, Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez hypothesises that there was a relationship between the way in which the animals are depicted and the time of year when the sun lit up the shelter. This salmon is represented with a curved lower jaw, a characteristic of a kelt or post-spawned fish. And spawning only occurs in the winter... A scene in the Lascaux cave confirm this hypothesis. Located deep inside the cave, this panel depicts two bison standing back to back. The tails of the two bison are crossed. According to experts, the fur colour of the bison on the left is a sign that it is moulting while the erection of the bison on the right indicates

it is rutting. Standing directly opposite the two animals, Chantal measures the orientation of their eyes. The eye of the bison on the right indicates 124° and the eye of the bison on the left is oriented at 56°. As for the two tails, they cross at 90°. A lunar calendar More recently, in 2007, Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez also worked on a small bone, who was discovered in the Abri Blanchard, in the French Dordogne, with 69 engraved incisions made 32,000 years ago. This bone was studied in the 1970s, by an American anthropologist, Alexander Marshack, who proposed the idea that the artefact could be an lunar calendar. Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez confirms and demonstrated this hypothesis : Using calculations of the moon's position in the Palaeolithic sky, and comparing this coordinates with the position of incisions, she discovered that the general outline of the two figures was strikingly similar : the 69 incisions corresponded to the trajectory of the moon over a 69-day period. This bone was probably the first lunar calendar in the history of Man. And its sculptor, an astronomer before his time? A revelation : it indicates astronomical knowledge in very ancient periods. It was hitherto thought that the origins of astronomy were to be found in Babylonian culture, 6000 years ago.

The First Work Of Its Kind What are the reaction of researchers in the field of Prehistory ? Jean-Michel Geneste, curator of Lascaux, means that : "this research work constitutes a world first at Lascaux and in other caves as it is based on systematic measurements, not

simply on more or less unverifiable intimations. It helped to show that there was indeed the representation of a sky structure painted on the cave's walls ». Jean Clottes thinks that « Palaeolithic man was very similar and yet very different to us. Remember, we are Westerners who live in the complex world of the 21st century. Ours is an industrial society. We are removed from nature. Our thinking is dominated by practical concerns, not at all by spiritual ones. You have to look at how these hunter-gatherers thought. It is evident that they observed the changing seasons, the stars... It isn't at all impossible that they translated this into art. That is why Chantal's work interests me. I believe she is onto something. The results she has shown me, for example, the light entering the caves, the fact caves were chosen in relation to their exposure to the sun or the moon... Given that she is dealing with a rather large number of caves, I have the feeling she has put her finger on something extremely interesting. » Some othre researchers are very sceptical. Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez does not evade criticism, suggesting that her theory does not exlude all the other theories (see box) and going as far as confessing that many questions remain unanswered. For example, one can wonder how the Magdalenian men managed to remember the orientation of the stars in the sky once they were deep inside the cave. "It all shows that more research work is absolutely necessary, and if possible in a non-parochial mannner", she says. Obviously, more research will have to confirm all this. Archaelogy has to open up to astronomical knowledge for it is sure to have played an important part in the lives of men at any period of time. They needed to know when the weather changes occurred and when the seasons changed

because this brought about the migrations of the large mammals herds the paleolithical men hunted. According to Jean-Michel Geneste, « to discover that there was a highly developed body of knowledge, which was passed on from generation to generation, and that these astronomic observations were repeated, not for years on end, but several times over periods of ten or twenty years, and then recorded, radically transforms our conception of this world, and indeed of how early man actually saw it ». Far more research is necessary to confirm the existence of such astronomical knowledge in Stone Age. But at the end of this exploration lies the understanding of an entire chapter of our history. A history that has travelled to us, down through the millennia, and which still fascinates us today.

Boxes A Hundred Years Old Quest For Meaning What could have been the force which pushed our ancestors, over a period of more than 10,000 years to paint the figures of beasts in the depths of their caves... Since the early 20th Century, specialists thought that the prehistoric hunters represented their preys in order to gain power over them and capture them more easily. But other searchers, led by André Leroi-Gourhan came to reject this theory and suggested that the cave was a structured and organized space where the early men expressed their myths and beliefs in the shape of beasts. Later on, Jean Clottes, a French archaelogist and his South African co-worker David Lewis-Williams brought forth another theory based on shamanism. The cave paintings could in fact be the representations of the spirits encountered

by the prehistoric sorcerers during their trances. The cave was the border between two worlds, the world of men and the world of spirits. Heavenly Rituals of the Past The first ascertained evidence of any astronomical science dates back to the Babylonian Era, about 5,500 years ago. Since then, many other civilizations endowed the skies with a paramount importance. Ethno-astronomy is a science which particularly focuses on the relationships between the sky and the myths and beliefs of the peoples of the past. The most famous occurrence of a prehistoric site orientated on the sky is to be found in England, with Stonehenge, a megalithic site consisting of rocks laid in a perfect circle and regarded by the specialists as the sanctuary of a solar cult. In South America, numerous pre-columbian sites are the witnesses of a period of time when religion and astronomy were together as one. Indeed, the sun pyramid of Teothihuacan in Mexico is perfectly aligned on the sun. Equally, in ancient Egypt and Greece, the sky was considered as the realm of the Gods.


The Lascaux cave : a Prehistoric sky-map...