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Prehistoric Cave Paintings

Cave art at Lascaux
Cave art at Lascaux

Traces of early civilisations can be found in an array of locations around the globe, from Asia to Africa. The fascination that surrounds the development of the early human race remains one of great interest, and the Dordogne is a region where signs of mankind’s early existence can be discovered. Traces of early settlers are clear in the cave paintings of the Vezere Valley – a setting that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the significance of the remains. 

A valley steeped in history 

It’s been said by leading paleontologists that the last Ice Age saw the earliest humans and animals in the region take refuge within the network of caves found in the Vezere Valley. Discovered in 1940 by 18-year-old Marcel Ravidat, the caves revealed objects, tools, bones, and even burial remains. It was, however, the 25 decorated caves – not least the magnificent Lascaux Cave – that provided such a fascinating insight into this prehistoric period. The caves feature a multitude of revealing artwork, thought to be over 17,000 years old, predominantly depicting large animals such as aurochs, bison, deer, and horses, while a number of human figures can be seen in sections. 

Protection of prehistoric art

Despite their age, the representations are distinctive and detailed, often surprising visitors with their high quality and intricacy. While the unearthing of the cave network and the subsequent change in climate has since seen the Lascaux Cave suffer from an increase in mould and fungus, there has been a concerted effort to improve the maintenance of this prehistoric legacy. Plans and discussions have led to the location being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, meaning the cave network of the Vezere Valley can remain under the careful watch of the best conservationists in the world.

Watch history come alive

Such is the cultural and historic importance of the cave network, the Vezere Valley welcomes thousands of travellers each year. With the caves closed to the public in order to preserve the paintings, a number of fascinating tourist attractions have been established to enable a discovery of the past. 

Of particular fascination is the site of Lascaux II at Montignac, where reproductions of the cave paintings faithfully recreate scenes found within the caves themselves. The National Musuem of Prehistory in Eyzies-de-Tayac, meanwhile, exhibits remains from prehistoric sites, with tools and bones offering a fascinating insight into the earliest human settlers in the Dordogne region.

Find out more about UNESCO World Heritage sites throughout France 
 

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