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Scientists meet to save Lascaux cave from
By JENNY BARCHFIELD,
Associated Press,Jenny Barchfield, Associated
Press Writer Feb 26, 2009
PARIS – Geologists, biologists and other scientists convened
Thursday in Paris to discuss how to stop the spread of fungus stains —
aggravated by global warming — that threaten France's prehistoric Lascaux
Black stains have spread across the cave's prehistoric murals of
bulls, felines and other images, and scientists have been hard-pressed to
halt the fungal creep.
Marc Gaulthier, who heads the Lascaux Caves International
Scientific Committee, said the challenges facing the group are vast and
global warming now poses an added problem.
"All of Lascaux's problems have always been linked to the cave's
climatization, meaning the equilibrium of air inside the cave," Gaulthier
told reporters at a news conference before the symposium. Now, rising
temperatures have complicated matters by stopping air from circulating
inside the caverns, he said.
immobile, frozen" inside the cave, he said.
This makes sending teams of scientists into the affected caverns
risky, as their mere presence raises humidity levels and temperatures that
could contribute to the growth of the different fungi, algae and bacteria
that have attacked the cave over the years, he said.
Other factors behind the stains include the presence of naturally
occurring microorganisms and the chemical makeup of the rock that forms the
cavern walls, Gaulthier and other scientists at the news conference said.
For the moment, the cave is completely sealed in hopes that "it
will heal itself," Gaulthier said.
Two possible solutions to be examined at the conference include
the installation of a system to regulate the cave's temperature and the use
of biocides, which kill the bacteria and have been used in the cave before,
with mixed results.
Scientists from as far away as the United States, New Zealand and
Japan were scheduled to attend the two-day symposium. The conclusions could
also help preserve caves in Japan and Spain.
In 1963, Lascaux, a top tourist destination, was closed to the
public after the appearance of green algae and other damage scientists
linked to the visitors. A replica of the main Lascaux cavern was built
nearby and has become a big tourist draw.
Carbon-dating suggests the murals were created between 15,000 and 17,500
years ago. Discovered in 1940, the cavern is a UNESCO World Heritage site.