September 12, 1940. 17-year-old Michel Ravidat and three of his friends enter a cave near Montignac in south-west France and discover what turned out to be Paleolithic-era paintings dating back more than 17,000 years. There are around 2,000 figures depicted in the paintings, nearly half of which are animals, while the rest consist mainly of what some researchers believe are astrological symbols. In December 1940, authorities listed the cave as an historical monument. In 1948, the cave opened to tourists but due to the paintings’ popularity, this became a threat to the preservation of the site; thousands of tourists’ breathing and artificial lighting led to the walls developing a green algae that damaged the paintings. The cave closed to visitors in 1963 and will never re-open to public. A replica version of the cave, called Lascaux II, has been opened nearby to welcome visitors. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, the Lascaux cave could soon be listed as World Heritage Site in danger.
Also on September 12: Benito Mussolini is freed by a German commando unit (1943); John Fitzgerald Kennedy marries Jacqueline Bouvier (1953); South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko is killed in police custody (1977); signature of the Treaty of Moscow which led to German reunification (1990).
Born on September 12: King Francis I of France (1494), Jesse Owens (1913), Barry White (1944), Mylène farmer (1961), Ben Folds (1966).