Yesterday here in the Dordogne region of France, we spent the day exploring its storybook villages and chateaus. Today we went on a journey to visit the region’s prehistoric past.
Our first stop was the Musee National of Prehistoire. There was a festive atmosphere when we arrived in Les Eyzies with people on old fashion tractors throwing confetti. We took a left at a sign pointing to the museum and immediately realized we had made a mistake. We had driven into the middle of a craft fair with tents set up on either side and it was a lovely one too. We were so close to the booths I could see what they were selling. One booth had small stuffed animals made from pretty French fabrics, another had jewelry and there we were stuck in the middle of it with people pushing baby strollers in front of us oblivious to the fact a car was behind them. Thankfully we found a way out.
The museum was excellent and had a complete skeleton of a boy who lived in Kenya over 1000,000 years ago. There was also a plaster cast of a hippo unearthed in Poland. A surprising number of huge animals lived in Europe long ago when the climate was different.
The highlight of our day was Lascaux. In 1940, some teenage boys were walking their dog when they discovered an opening to a cave. Thinking there might be some treasure they had heard was hidden somewhere in the valley, they returned the next day. They didn’t find treasure, but did discover an amazing array of prehistoric cave paintings of animals on the walls. They reported their discovery and scientists did carbon testing and found the paintings to be over 25,000 years old. For years visitors from all over the world came to visit the cave, but sadly it was closed in the 1960s because mold was forming over the paintings as a result of all the visitors.
Over the years since the cave closed, Lascaux has had several replica caves, but we were really lucky. This year they opened an exact replica of the cave only 500 meters from the original one. We took an English tour and were told right off, “There is no such thing as cavemen. These people who lived 25,000 years ago had the same intelligence as us. Only their technology was different.”
Our tour began with a video showing how the geography of the land has changed over 25,000 years as well as the animals living there. Suddenly we heard barking and the teenage boys appeared on screen following their dog into the woods. “Let’s follow them,” said our guide and he led us right into the cave. The paintings were amazing, but many have symbols that are still a mystery. We saw magnificent bulls, cows, and deer all in earth tone colors of reds, browns, yellows, and black.
Once we exited the caves, we were led to a room where you could interact with the reproductions of the paintings by using a tablet they provided. Next we headed in to see a new 3D movie about Lascaux. We were given 3D glasses and sat on plush comfortable sofa like seats. The video was way too long. It was 20 minutes of reflective questions narrated in almost a poetic style. “Who painted these animals? Was it a collective effort? What is their significance? What connection has your soul made to them?”
At the end of the film as the lights came on there was some snickering. A young man was completely crashed out in the front row sound asleep.
Roque Saint Christophe was a town built right into the ledges of a high cliff back in the Middle Ages to escape the invasion of the Vikings. No stone dwellings remain, but information boards at each of over 20 points along the ledge walk told the story of life long ago.
The view from the ledges into the countryside was picture perfect. This was such a peaceful place in the early evening. A nest of baby birds chirped from their rocky ledge, children swam in the lazy river below the cliff, cows grazed in the meadow below, sunflowers waved in the gentle breeze, and cicadas sang joyfully.
Tonight back in town, people are just strolling about, watching entertainers, or stopping for an ice cream. It has been a great day and we are thrilled we will be spending another full day here tomorrow.