Decorated caves, a fragile setting
Decorated caves are living bodies with a precarious balance. Each cave has its own unique history that depends on the conditions of water erosion and its evolution. Hence, in Chauvet Cave, prehistoric mankind never saw the magnificent concretions that amaze us today.
Draperies and fistulae developed later, when the climate warmed up. Limestone laden water seepage at times covered the walls and paintings with a calcite coating, as on the Signs Panel in the Red Panel Chamber, and built up authentic mineral constructions. The floor was covered in calcite crystals, which covered up human and animal traces, which are at times still visible. There were also collapses, due to the aspiration of a lower network, which explains why the owl in the Hillaire Chamber is now perched on a pendant over a void.
A fragile balance
Serious manmade alterations could occur as the result of too many visits. Lascaux is an unfortunate example of this. The body heat of visitors, carbon from their breath, and contamination from the outside are significant elements, along with photographs and filming, which could put the cave at risk by disrupting its internal balance. We therefore have to be particularly careful and pre-empt any such disruptions, drawing up strict rules for entrance to the site in order to protect the cave's integrity and ensure its protection for the future.