September 12, 1940: The Lascaux cave paintings are discovered.
The discoverers of the celebrated Paleolithic cave paintings were four teenagers, who had stumbled upon the site while searching for their lost dog. Located in southwestern France, the Lascaux cave system was first studied by and introduced to the public by archaeologist-priest Henri Breuil. It was opened to the public in 1948, but it closed once more in 1963 in order to help preserve the paintings.
Nearly 2,000 illustrations, of animals (stags, bison, cattle), humans, and other, more abstract designs, can be found in the Lascaux caves; these illustrations are some of the oldest examples of any sort of high-quality, complex art, estimated to be anywhere from 13,000 to 25,000 years old. These paintings are divided into several sections, including a “Great Hall of the Bulls”, which contains some of the cave’s most famous pieces – black aurochs, one of them measuring over seventeen feet across. Other sections include a “Chamber of Felines”, and “the Shaft of the Dead Man”. The purpose of these paintings remains obscure – perhaps the caves were regarded as sacred places, where special rites were performed, or maybe our prehistoric ancestors really, really liked painting animals.