Lascaux Unicorn

Myst ery Hooeed Mammal of prehist oric West -ern Europe.

Etymology: Unicorn is a misnomer, since the animal clearly has two horns.

Physical description: Reddish. Large spot s. Square head. Two long, straight horns. Large belly, possibly indicating a pregnancy. Short tail.

Distribution: Grot t e de Lascaux, Dordogne Depart ment, sout h-cent ral France.

Significant sighting: A 17,000-year-old Upper Paleolithic painting of an unidentifiable animal exists in the cave of Lascaux, above the Vezere River valley near Montignac, France. The cave, with its many depictions of horses, bulls, and ot her animal s, was discovered in Sept ember 1940.

Present status: The cave was cl osed to t ourist s in 1963, but a partial replica was opened nearby in 1983.

Possible explanations: Most commentators speculate that the 17,000-year-old painting shows an imaginary animal, though the other paintings in the cave are naturalistic depictions of real fauna. Others have suggested that it shows a hunt er or shaman dressed in skins t aken from different animals.

Sources: Pet er Cost el l o, The Magic Zoo (New York: St. Martin's, 1979), pp. 27-29; Mario Ruspol i, The Cave ofLascaux: The Final Photographs (New York: Harry Abrams, 1987).

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