Author: Vania Stavreva
Source: The 24 Chasa newspaper, August 21st, 2012
Scientists from the BulgarianAcademy of Science have recently studied the fungi, which grow on the rock drawings in the Magura Cave. We are waiting for their expert opinion on what measures can be undertaken for their protection and if the hall with the paintings may be open for visitors.
Several years ago, experts from the National Institute of immovable cultural heritage have banned the access to the drawings and ever since these masterpieces of prehistoric art have been locked. The reason for this closing was the opinion that the development of mould fungi was associated with changes in the microclimate due to the access of people and light.
“Now the prevailing opinion is that there is no danger for the drawings, and if scientists confirm we will open this gallery for the tourists. Many people go to the cave to see the drawings and remain disappointed that they can not see them,” said Boris Nikolov the Mayor Belogradchik.
As of the end of April the management of the cave was transferred to the municipality pursuant to a Decree of the Council of Ministers, so that the Municipality can apply for European funds for its development.
A project to improve the tourist infrastructure has been approved and its funding is expected.
However, the local government is concerned about maintaining the microclimate in the Magura cave. “One of the first projects in this connection would be to replace the current lighting with LED lights that emit no heat,” said Nikolov.
The length of the Magura cave is approximately 3 km; most of its galleries are at a depth of 56 metres, which has created a unique microclimate with a constant temperature of 12 degrees, high humidity and a total lack of daylight.
Human presence, however, has changed these conditions since after 2001 lighting has been installed along its entire length. Along with powerful lightening these spotlights emit heat. The result is that as of few years moss grows around the spotlight in the cave, in which there has never been green vegetation. The mosses spores have been introduced underground by sticking to the visitors’ shoes and the light and heat have created conditions for their development.
The more serious problem however is the fungi on the primitive drawings. Because of them the cave was nominated for inclusion in the list of monuments protected by UNESCO in the Cultural Heritage category 28 years ago.
The gallery with the drawings is located in the left branch of the cave and it can be accessed through a narrow corridor at about 200 metres from the entrance. In total darkness, at a constant temperature of 13 degrees (one degree more than the temperature in the other halls), high humidity and no air circulation more than 700 drawings of religious and hunting scenes have been preserved.
The drawings have been made in different periods and the ancient people have added new images between the older scenes. In the Sunny Gallery a solar annual calendar was depicted with a precise accuracy, dating back from the late E-Neolithic era with some additions from the Bronze Age.
The drawings have convex shapes bulging with 2 to 4 mm out the rock surface because the rock uncovered with guano has faded under the influence of atmospheric moisture over the millennia.
What time has failed to do, people have done it – some of the images were damaged by vandals during the period in which the cave was not yet been conserved and made fit for visitors.
Over the last 30 years nothing has been done for the restoration and preservation of the specimens of ancient art, even though in 1960 the cave was declared a national monument. In 1983 Aneta Slavova of the then National Institute for Cultural Monuments processed and preserved with a special solution a small fraction of the drawings, but her initiative was not continued.
On the surfaces treated with such solution no mould and fungi have developed and we do not need to seek foreign experience since we have our own, said with certainty Anka Yordanova, the cave tour guide with longest experience.
Restoration and conservation are mandatory and seeking funding for such works is with priority, convinced us the community officials. One of the options available is to grant access to tourists at least to the Solar Gallery as a start, which also has pictures, and they are preserved. But this can not be done without the permission from the National Institute of Immovable Cultural Heritage.
Closing the Gallery with the drawings in the MaguraCave is not in fact our whim. The world famous Lascaux cave with prehistoric drawings from the late Palaeolithic era, which is located in the valley of the Dordogne, South-west France, was closed for visitors in 1963 The reason is that the tourist flow causes changes in the microclimate and threatens the frescoes.
The cave was discovered in 1940 and after World War II, it was open for visitors.
After 1955, an increase in carbon dioxide, water condensation on the walls and in the temperature was established. In 1960, the visitors reached 1,800 people per day. Fungi started to appear and in January 1963 the cave was closed.
During the first six months of 2012 there were 11,808 visitors in the MaguraCave.
The Americans study the cave for a century
The drawings in the Magura cave are subject to researches since the beginning of the XX century and the first archaeological excavations were made in 1961 by Nikolai Djambazov. The latest ones were made three months ago in the “Podmola” Hall. They were carried out by the American anthropologists David Street, Kelly Orr and Dane Heychkof, the geologist Chris Miller and Ivaylo Krumov from Belogradchik.
In one of the layers they discovered two skulls of a cave bear, bones from cave hyena and grazing animals. Pieces of coals were also discovered and taken for analysis and dating of the layers. Assumptions are that this layer dates back from 30-40 thousand years BC. The studies of the American team will continue in the next season.