Prehistoric Sites of the Vezere Valley
The presence of the past in Paleolithic art
Introduction to Prehistoric Sites of the Vezere Valley
Located in southwestern France, the Vezere Valley is famous for its 147 Paleolithic sites and 25 caves decorated with prehistoric art, including the famed Lascaux cave. Indeed, the natural formations of this river valley contain some of the best preserved early artworks ever discovered, and the collection of tools, utensils, skeletons, flints, and faunal remains found there constitutes the largest and most varied compilation of prehistoric objects in the world.
Visitors to the Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vezere Valley are no longer permitted to tour the caves located there. Instead, Lascaux II was opened in 1983 and provides visitors with a replica of the real Lascaux. Inside, the Great Hall of the Bulls and The Painted Gallery have been reproduced, showing guests replicas of some of the cave’s best artwork, painted by local artist Monique Peytral and several others. A guided tour of Lascaux II takes about 40 minutes and is available in English.
Additional reproductions can be found in the Centre of Prehistoric Art in Le Thot, a nearby theme park-type attraction that reconstructs the specifics of prehistoric life. There’s also an exhibit there that shows visitors how Lascaux II was created.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, the Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of Vezere Valley have provided the world with a good look at a massive collection of items from as long ago as 400,000 years.
Flint and bone splinters were first discovered in and around the town of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac in 1862, and two gentleman – English banker Henry Christy and French geologist Edouard Loutet – began excavating in the area soon thereafter, never expecting to find the large cache of artifacts that would eventually be unearthed in the years that followed.
Early discoveries in the Vezere Valley included multi-colored drawings in the Font-de-Gaume cave and beautiful stalactites and stalagmites in a cave that became known as the Grand Roc. La Madeleine, a rock shelter that was believed to have belonged to the Magdalenian culture, presented a wealth of tools made from bones and antlers. Other indications of a tool-making culture were found in Le Moustier Cave. In 1868, prehistoric skeletons were discovered in a cave that soon became known as Cro-Magnon.
Geologists soon determined that there were five archaeological layers covered with ash at the Font-de-Gaume site and that the remains in the upper layer were probably from the Upper Paleolithic period, some 10,000 to 35,000 years ago.
The tool tradition of prehistoric man is also well illustrated by the finds at the sites of the Vezere Valley. Tools found here are from two different stages of prehistoric culture and include stone knives with one sharp and one flat edge, scrapers, burins (like chisels), borers, and more. Most were used for hunting.
The Lascaux Cave, discovered in 1940 by four curious teenagers, is probably the most magnificent site in the Vezere Valley. Geologists discovered myriad hunting scenes on the walls, depicting about 100 different animals in amazing detail and featuring many colors. It is believed the pictures date from about 17,000 years ago. The cave opened to visitors in 1948 and within the next decade was averaging 1,200 visitors a day. That was too many for such an important archaeological/ethnological find and the impact on the site was devastating, so it was closed in 1963.
Tickets for Lascaux II are available for purchase or visitors may buy a combo ticket that includes entry to Lascaux II and Le Thot. A combo ticket costs about €12 and is especially recommended for those with children. Tickets cannot be purchased over the phone but can be purchased in advance at the tourist office in either Beynac (all year) or Montignac (summer only). During busy tourist season (June, July, August), visitors may not be able to get tickets for the day of their visit. Lascaux II is closed for the month of January.
Driving distance from Paris to the Vezere Valley prehistoric sites is about 5 hours. Train transportation is possible but is quite complicated and trains do not reach Montignac but rather the neighboring hamlet of Condat-le-Lardin. From that point, taxis are available to the Lascaux Cave area.
- 25 decorated caves and 147 prehistoric sites
- Collection of objects includes more than 500,000 flints
- Animal art in the caves is the best in the world
- Best finds of the Upper and Middle Paleolithic
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