On September 8, 1940, Marcel went on a treasure hunt. For years, people had talked about a secret underground passage in the countryside around their French village. They said that the passage led to hidden treasure. The French teenager thought he had found the passage when he discovered the opening to a long vertical shaft. Four days later, on September 12, Marcel and three of his friends returned to explore it. This time, Marcel brought an oil lamp to light the way. One after another, the boys wriggled down the long passageway. Finally, they tumbled into a huge cavern, and Marcel held up the lamp. By its flickering light, they noticed a high passage. The friends entered the passage, and Marcel shone the light on its walls. What the French teenagers saw amazed them. Herds of horses, oxen, and deer stampeded across the curving cave wall. The colorful animals seemed to leap off the walls. Excitedly, the teenagers ran through the cave and found room after room of paintings. They had found the real treasure of Lascaux.
The cave paintings discovered by the teenagers - Marcel Ravidat, Jacques Marsal, Georges Agnel, and Simon Coencas - are estimated to be 16,000 years old. Lascaux is unique for the exceptionally realistic portrayal of the animals and for the large size of some of the paintings: one of the aurochs in the Cave of the Bulls is 17' wide - the biggest animal image ever found in a Stone Age cave. The public was allowed access from after World War II to 1963, by which time the 2,000 paintings had suffered from the carbon dioxide of 1,200 visitors a day. A nearby replica of two of the galleries was opened in 1983 and The Cave of Lascaux website is beautiful, but now the cave is beset by fungus and black mold. Since January 2008, not even scientists are allowed access.