Cave Sculptures Go on Display for First Time in 15,000 Years

Article excerpt

Prehistoric cave sculptures never seen by the public will be revealed today thanks to the most advanced, computerised techniques of laser-copying and visual display.

A museum to open near Poitiers, in western France, will span one- a-half millennia of human image-making, from stone chisels to computers. The star of the show, at Angles-sur-L'Anglin, in the departementof Vienne, will be a 60ft-long frieze of bison, horses, cats, goats and erotic female figures, carved into the limestone of western France 15,000 years ago.

The caverns containing the frieze were discovered by French and British archaeologists in 1950 but have never been opened to the public. The Roc-aux-Sorciers (witches' rock) caves are the only site of their kind in Europe: a two-dimensional, carved equivalent of the celebrated cave paintings at Lascaux in Dordogne, 120 miles farther south, which were created 1,000 years earlier.

From today, the public will be able to visit a 2.7m (2.1m) visitor centre where the original sculptures, and the contours of the cavern sides, have been precisely recreated to full size by computerised, laser-copying techniques. At intervals a half-hour son- et-lumire display will be projected on to the frieze, suggesting how the carvings may have been created and how they were discovered 58 years ago.

Oscar Fuentes, the director of the centre, says the intention is to go beyond the full-size replica - Lascaux II - built in 1983 to preserve the Lascaux caves from exposure to human breath and body heat.

"We want to make the frieze into a place of scientific discovery in which the visitors are doing their own discovering," he said. "We want them to reach their own conclusions and understand that their interpretation is as good as that of anyone else. …