The Dordogne Caves in France were said to be painted and incised after the last great ice age, more than 20-40,000 years ago. During that great sweep of time, they remained unchanged and hidden. Then around the time of World War II, they were re-discovered, sometimes with tragic results.
Uncontrolled tourism and bacteria from shoes and in people’s breath caused fungus to grow on the images and nearly destroyed Lascaux until the French government closed the site.
Today, only a few painted caves are open to visitors and they are tightly monitored and regulated. In a world first, Indigenous and Western researchers gained access to the painted caves of southern France.
The images were created more than 20,000-40,000 years ago at a time when humanity revered and lived in balance with nature.
Dr Apela Colorado, founder of the Worldwide Indigenous Science Network (WISN) and Pascal Raux, an expert on the cave images, assembled a team of researchers representing both Western and Indigenous science.
“Like Paleolithic people, when we enter the caves, we face our primal fears and are transformed and empowered by the experience. But unlike ancient humanity, we do not leave the cave able to face the natural world beyond the cave entrance." said Dr Colorado.
The Worldwide Indigenous Science Network was established in 1989 to revitalise and unite Indigenous scientists around the world to ensure the practice, maintenance and protection of their skills.
“The power of Indigenous science lies in its ability to make connections and perceive patterns across vast cycles of space and time."
Dr Colorado explained that “the power of Indigenous science lies in its ability to make connections and perceive patterns across vast cycles of space and time. This 'great memory' belongs to the entire human species, but it is most fully active in cultural healers who develop heightened levels of consciousness.
Shamans, mammoths, bisons, horses, werewolves, giant humans, fairies, shape-shifting dragons and the ‘White Lady Ghost’ were just some of the ancient stories Pascal (Paleolithic Man) and Dominique (Occitan) shared with the WISN team.
Both Pascal and Dominique are part of a cultural moment in France that seeks to revitalise the laws and customs of the ancient world.
“The paintings in the caves in Dordogne have many purposes and personally I feel that I am only beginning to just understand some of those. From Pascal I've learned that these were and are sacred sites for ceremony and learning. They show me the connection people once had with the forces of nature around them and a spiritual world. For me it is a place of connection,” Chyna Colorado, daughter of Dr Apela, revealed.
The ancient people who painted the caves some 20-40,000 years ago would have witnessed major astronomical and catastrophic events like tsunamis and meteorites and survived to tell the story.
In 2011, Dr Coloardo discovered her own people’s traditional story revealing tsunami warning signs which were not previously known.
While working at the Tsunami Warning Centre, Dr Colorado’s job was to provide an Indigenous perspective on tsunamis. She discussed a single petroglyph (rock carving) showing the spirit of the seas and the effect of the tsunami upon the earth.
“I felt a little bit insecure because I’m not completely traditional. I’ve been westernised too and I was dealing with scientists who are very sure of their science and very sure of their facts.”
“I felt a little bit insecure because I’m not completely traditional. I’ve been westernised too and I was dealing with scientists who are very sure of their science and very sure of their facts.” she said.
After the 2011 Bali tsunami she asked if any whirlpools had been created, as the petroglyphs contained spirals Her geologist friend replied absolutely not.
“At the time, I wondered why she was being so strong about it when she was telling me I was wrong.”
Two days later her phone rang and it was her friend calling.
“When I opened her email I almost started to cry because in the email was a picture taken by a satellite of South East Asia. The image showed the whirlpool which was also featured in the petroglyphs.”
Environmental academic and broadcaster Dr David Suzuki says:
“Indigenous people celebrate and thank the creator for the world that they live in. That’s not the way science does it and the knowledge acquired through that way of living is absolutely essential for the survival of those people. If their knowledge didn’t work they would’ve been gone a long time ago."
Maybe the caves in France can soften hearts and allow Western society to get a little closer to an Indigenous mindset and nature.