1.         Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley (France) (C 85)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1979

Criteria  (i)(iii)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/85/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 0
For details, see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/85/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds


Previous monitoring missions

2006: World Heritage Centre site visit; March 2009: ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission; 

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Outbreaks of mould and bacterial spores on the surface of the cave paintings of Lascaux;

Illustrative material  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/85/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2010

The State Party submitted on 1 February 2010 a state of conservation report including 17 Annexes, amounting to 313 pages reflecting the extensive practical and research work on Lascaux cave (as part of the World Heritage property of Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley) that has been carried out and documented. 

In responseto the World Heritage Committee requests the State Party report includes the following:

a) Protocol on Intervention

The State Party has not reported whether the protocol was made public, as suggested by the Committee.  

b) Develop a Communication Strategy

The State Party reports that on 30 June 2009 a new web-site for Lascaux was launched that provides a virtual visit of the cave and thus provides virtual access to this part of the property. There was no information provided on a formal communication strategy.

c) Document and map the overall climatic conditions of the cave

Research between 2007 and 2009 concerned three control areas with different micro-climates. The initial observations of the inter-disciplinary research involving microbiologists, geologists, and climatologists tend to confirm the hypothesis that the microclimate of the wall surface controls the development of microbes. As a result the Scientific Council has agreed to reorient the programme to two new zones, where it is possible to gain better data on the interaction between these two factors. These zones have been chosen for the nature of their substrate, and the presence of fungal contamination and black stains. The State Party report provides an initial summary of this research but states that a full appraisal of the results should await the final outcome at the end of 2010.

The State Party report also provides information on the progress with a Microbiological-Microclimate project that has been developing an inventory of the various bacteria and fungi present in the cave. This has shown that mushrooms are always associated with bacteria and that the two together constitute a ‘biofilm’ which gives the mushrooms resistance to stress including biocide treatments which explain the mismatch between the efficiency of various treatments in the laboratory and in the cave. In the light of these first results, the Scientific Council has promoted research on the link between mushrooms and the production of melanin linked to the black stains. The National Institute for Agricultural Research in Dijon and the National Institute of Natural Resources and Agrobiology in Seville have initiated a programme to better understand the metabolism of the mushrooms. 

The State Party also informs that during 2009 no biocide treatment has been applied. Those responsible for monitoring the contaminated areas have not recorded any adverse changes. Indeed there has been a tendency for white mould and black stains to diminish. However during October 2009, the limited presence of apparently new vermiculations was noted and was mapped. This allowed an understanding of which were new and which have remained since 2005. A preliminary hypothesis suggests that they are linked to a film of water – which is in turn linked to wet weather. A visual and photographical weekly monitoring has been put in place and a study of the physical and chemical profile of the vermiculations is being undertaken by the University of Bordeaux.

d) Development of appropriate climate control mechanisms; based on minimal intervention and defined conservation approach

A project called the Lascaux Simulator has been designed to assist decision making on the development of appropriate control mechanisms. This has for instance looked at the impact of all disturbances linked to air circulations, of eventual introduction of materials, and of human presence and how long it takes to regain equilibrium after their departure. The installation in May 2009 of new air speed monitoring mechanisms is to collect data over a whole year. So far the data collected has confirmed the accuracy of the simulator, which is to become, as reported by the State Party, a crucial tool in preventive long-term conservation of the cave.

e) Formalize the new management framework based on a separation between administrative and scientific functions

The State Party has confirmed that this system is now in place. Archaeology is now the responsibility of the Director of the National Centre for Prehistory, while administration is the responsibility of Regional Directorate for historic monuments and is exercised by the Conservator of the cave appointed in April 2009. The new Scientific Council was officially created in January 2010 and a press release announced the names of the 13 members, nine from France the remaining four from United States of America, Spain and Italy.

g) Invitation of representatives of ICOMOS and ICCROM to participate in Scientific Council meetings

The press release of 16 February 2010 by the Ministry of Culture announcing the names of the new members of the Council contains the name of at least two representatives from ICOMOS, who participated in the reactive monitoring mission to the site in March 2009.

h) Action Plan with priorities adopted by the International Scientific Committee, and timeframe for the next three years

The State Party Report did not provide a formal Action Plan with a timeframe.

The State Party report also provided information on the following:

- Access to the Lascaux cave has been strictly limited during the year to 705 man-hours in the part with paintings and 147 man-hours in the vestibule area;

- The Scientific Committee of Lascaux has had recommended the re-location of parking serving the much visited facsimile cave, away from the vicinity of the cave as in line with the short-term plan to isolate the Lascaux hill. There are also plans to move interpretation away from the hill and to develop a new structure at the foot of the hill for visitors, similar to the one at Altamira;

- Plans are being pursued to acquire land around the hill by the State. Out of four private owners approached, one has already signed an agreement and agreements in principle are being discussed with the two public owners, SEMITOUR and the Dordogne Council;

- A “laboratory cave”, Leye, has been chosen based on its similarity (geological, architectural, its position close to the surface) to Lascaux cave in order to serve as an experimental site for the conservation of Lascaux.

The World Heritage Centre and Advisory Bodies welcome the continuation of extensive and detailed observation, monitoring, analysis and research work that has been detailed in the State Party report to develop a deeper understanding of the interaction between climatic and microbiological factors, and between manifestations such as mushrooms and the melanin of black stains. They also acknowledge the important work being undertaken to simulate the conditions in the cave as a precursor to the development of appropriate mechanism for climatic control. The apparent stability of the cave over the past year is noted as well as progress made with the isolation of the hill and the acquisition of land.

The World Heritage Centre and Advisory Bodies also note the development of the new Lascaux web-site that provides virtual access. They consider that there is still a need to secure a full understanding of the conservation methodology and approaches being adopted and the future action plans being envisaged. They consider that there is still a need for public knowledge of the Protocol on Intervention through a communications strategy and of the specific Action Plan envisaged by the Scientific Council. 

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and ICCROM


Decision Adopted: 34 COM 7B.85

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-10/34.COM/7B,

2. Recalling Decisions 32 COM 7B.88, and 33 COM 7B.100 adopted at its 32nd (Quebec City, 2008) and 33rd (Seville, 2009) sessions respectively,

3. Takes note of the extensive and detailed observation, monitoring, analysis and research to develop an understanding of the complex micro-biological and climatic dynamics of the Lascaux cave as a means to fully understand the causes of the surface decay;

4. Welcomes the fact that during 2009, there were almost no adverse changes to the surface of the cave, but notes, however, that during October 2009 the limited presence of apparently new vermiculations was noted and mapped;

5. Also notes the progress made with respect to the development of a formal communication strategy to enable the conservation approaches to be fully and widely understood and urges the State Party to begin this programme with appropriate scientific advice;

6. Further notes the new management arrangements which separate scientific research and administrative functions;

7. Acknowledges the progress with the isolation of the hill, through proposals to move car parking and acquire land into State ownership;

8. Reiterates its request that the Protocol on Intervention that has been developed should be made public, as this could be used as a best practice example for other similar properties;

9. Also reiterates the need for the development of a formal communication strategy and the need for the Scientific Council to formulate the priorities adopted into a detailed action plan with a timeframe for the next three years;

10. Requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2011, a progress report on the state of conservation of the property with respect to the points above and on progress made in the creation of the above-mentioned action plan, for the examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 35th session in 2011.