January 25, 2008

The Lascaux Cave is in peril - bad management more than anything

Sad story about the management of the historic Lascaux Cave and its amazing paintings. From SaveLascaux:
The Crisis of Lascaux
The 17,000 year old paintings inside the cave of Lascaux are in grave danger. Since 1998, when the first incursion of lichen was found growing inside the cave, Lascaux has been attacked by a series of molds, fungi and bacteria. The installation of a new air recirculation system in 2000 complicated the situation and compromised the stability of the atmosphere inside Lascaux. One of the fungi found growing inside the cave, fusarium solani, is a common mold found in the agricultural areas around Lascaux. It has been charged that workers installing the new air-conditioning system did not take care to sterilize their shoes on entering the cave thus bringing the mold inside with them each day.

By 2001, the molds colonized in the cave forming a white mass over the floors and ledges of the painted chambers. Authorities began spraying massive doses of antibiotics and fungicides in an effort to stop the rapidly spreading organisms. Within weeks the molds reappeared quickly developing a resistance to the antibiotic sprays. Realizing that the air-conditioning system was ill fitted for the cave and was indeed part of the problem, authorities shut down a major portion of the newly installed system.

In the fall of 2001, authorities poured quicklime over the floor of the cave in a very aggressive and controversial move hoping to stop the advance of the molds and fungi. This measure stops the spreading but raises the internal temperature of the cave as the quicklime virtually suffocates the cave floor. Compresses soaked in a mixture of fungicides and antibiotics are then applied like bandages to the walls and ledges of the cave in a further attempt to control the growing organisms.

The fungi and molds have retreated by the summer of 2002 but bacteria are still growing in large dark spots inside the cave. Authorities then resort to a mechanical removal of the roots of the bacteria. This method is highly invasive and unending. The damage inflicted on the cave by having crews constantly inside physically removing the roots, coupled with the brown spots that remain and are highly visible, is not a viable long-term solution to save the cave.
And the root cause of the problem:
To date, the French government has been ineffective in its handling of the crisis inside Lascaux. Four different departments are charged with the care of the cave with no one authority held accountable. There is overlap and a real failure by the authorities charged with the cave’s well-being to judge the situation in its severity. There is no independent international oversight. Unless change is undertaken quickly, the world stands to lose Lascaux’s irreplaceable masterpiece and its rich story of mankind’s place in time.
Bad enough that a French bureaucracy is in charge but FOUR of them with zero accountability? I'm amazed it's lasted this long... The UK Independent also has the story with some additional details. Posted by DaveH at January 25, 2008 9:45 PM | TrackBack
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