Archive for February 28th, 2009


Scientists meet to save Lascaux cave from fungus (from AP)

By JENNY BARCHFIELD, Associated Press Writer Jenny Barchfield, Associated Press Writer – Thu Feb 26, 4:57 pm ET

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 cave drawings.

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.

“It’s stagnating, 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.


It’s been a long time coming, but this is good news indeed. Prehistoric cave paintings in Malaysia are also in danger of being ruined by fungus. I was at the Painted Cave (also known as Gua Kain Hitam) in Niah, Sarawak over two seasons of excavations in 2007 and 2008, and i have seen those hideous green mold inching up ever closer to the cave paintings.

The prehistoric cave paintings at the Painted Cave in Niah, Sarawak

Prehistoric cave paintings at the Painted Cave in Niah, Sarawak


A tale of two cemeteries

The Jewish cemetery and the Anglican cemetery in Penang are two historical places that should be on every local or foreign tourist must-visit list. The former, established in 1805, is one the few remaining, and public, evidence of a small yet thriving Jewish community in Penang once upon a time (now, how many actually knew about that fact?) The latter, established in 1789, is the resting place of a number of important individuals, including Francis Light, the founder of Penang. But sadly, both places have, over the generations, been neglected and pushed back to a drab and lonely corner that we might call the forgotten part of our history.

Although comparatively, the Jewish cemetery is quite well taken care of (there is an old Indian caretaker  living in the compounds of the cemetery), not many people, even locals, know about the existence of the cemetery. It is not even listed on tourism brochures or guide books like the Lonely Planet.  In contrast, the Anglican cemetery  is quite well known since it houses Francis Light’s grave. However, the state of the cemetery is apalling. Torn fences, moldy graves, unkempt yard and ocassional garbage litters the site. It is ironic to hear and read in the news about heritage-loving people and NGOs protesting over the planned desctructions of old hospitals or some old mansion that once belonged to some rich fellow, while truly historical sites like these (for God’s sake, that Francis dude founded Penang!!! and i’m not sure about my history knowledge but it was perhaps one of  the first instances of British arrival in Malaysia) are neglected and swept under the carpet.

It makes one wonder. Does it have to do with Francis Light being a penjajah (colonizer) and we are supposed to hate the penjajahs and therefore we dont care about their cemeteries? And in the case of the Jewish cemetery, is it because of the prevalent (it’s bloody obvious, you hear it all the time although people are unwilling to criticize it) anti-semitic views among most Malaysians? Case in point, a friend of mine once made a comment about how he would rather die than be the jaga (caretaker) of the Jewish cemetery.

Jewish cemetery

Jewish cemetery

Francis Lights grave

Francis Light's grave

February 2009
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