September 3, 2013

Prehistoric Art

The entrance to Les Combarelles
Having visited Roman, Medieval and Renaissance sites, today I went back in time, way back in time, to see some prehistoric art.

The entrance to Font de Gaume

The Vézère Valley was a center of art making in prehistoric times; its subjects were animals, abstract geometric shapes, and the human figure. Those in Font de Gaume retain their pigment: ochres, black, reds. In Les Combarelles water has washed away most of the color, the figures now delineated only by their carved lines. In both caves, they were clearly seen as our guide outlined them with his light. In the dim light, to my untrained eye, the reindeer, bison, lions, mammoths sprang to life when the guides pointed them out with their lights. Then we visitors saw how the artists had used the shapes of the cave walls to create relief, how they had drawn, with their flints, manes, noses, details of mouths, hoofs, eyes. How they had created relationships between groups of animals.

We saw mostly bison in Font de Gaume, but in Les Combarelles there are over 600 images, including rare images of humans. Many are drawn one over the other. Clearly these were created with intent, but this was 11,000 to 17,000 years ago. Questions of why, and of meaning, remain a mystery. Moreover, the artists did not use carbon, so their work cannot be dated accurately.

These are national sites, and the guides very skilled. In the first tour there wasn't one native French speaker, but most understood English, so the guide used English. In the second, we all spoke adequate French (except a German girl of about 10, there with her parents.) That guide spoke slowly and clearly, even I understood. She gave time for the father of the child to explain to her before moving along. I was impressed, and grateful.

Needless to say, once past the entrances to the caves, photography was not permitted.The French site for National Monuments is good for pictures and info, even if you don't read French.

Later in the day I visited the national museum of prehistory, where photos were allowed. The skull and art dates from the same period as the art on the walls of the caves.

This vest and cap are perhaps 18,000 years old. 

Finally, a glimpse of the cliffs above town. Very little biking today, just to get around town.



  1. You certainly managed to pack a lot into your tour.

  2. I did indeed! There is so much history, art, in this part of France and I had a hard time making choices...


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