Summer in the Dordogne – prehistory

Well, rather like spring than summer, as far as the weather was concerned! Sun, rain, cold, hot, not much swimming … eh bien. But plenty of time to absorb the delights of the area.

The Dordogne, and especially the Perigord Noir, is noted for many things, among which are the prehistoric sites of Cro-Magnon Man. Over the years we have visited many caves, all special in their own way. This year was the year for Lascaux 2, the original Lascaux being closed to the public because of damage to the paintings by the influx of tourists with their body heat and breath. And in fact, Lascaux 3 is now being built, and Lascaux on the Move, being taken around the world. It will be interesting to see how that will be done! The original Grotte de Lascaux was discovered in 1940 by 4 boys looking for their dog (according to popular myth). The paintings discovered were executed by Cro-Magnon people 17,000 years ago, and are among the finest examples of prehistoric art in existence. Lascaux 2 was opened in 1983, the result of 11 years of painstaking work by 20 artists and sculptors, using the same methods and materials as the original cave painters.

The Grotte de Rouffignac is a little different, in that one travels down into the cave on a small electric train, with each person having an i-pod with an explanation. On the way one passes by the “bears nests”, hollows carved out in the rock by the bears (“Clan of the Cave Bear” – Jean Auel?) with claw marks on ceilings and walls. At the end of the track one can get off the train to view the paintings close overhead, on the Great Ceiling. The main theme of the paintings in this cave is the mammoth. It is known as the “Hundred Mammoths Cave”. There are actually 158 mammoth paintings, which comprise one third of all the mammoth paintings in Western Europe. There are 8 kilometres of caves, with galleries on three levels.

A visit to Roque St Christophe is a must. An “abri” or shelter in the cliff, 1 kilometere long and on 5 levels, with more than 100 shelters, it was a place of human habitation 55,000 years ago. From the 6th century to the 16th century it was a village of approximately 1000 inhabitants, which was abandoned in 1588 in the Wars of Religion. The site today has many reconstructions, including methods of construction. Situated on the south bank of the Vezere River, it formed part of a chain of 22 shelters along the river, and a warning could be sent by horn 18 kilometres in 6 minutes!

We do visit other sites as well, but these three formed our troglodyte experience this summer!

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