It all started 400 000 years ago, when Homo Erectus arrived in Perigord, coming from Africa.
The traces of early settlements show his ability to use some technology, like two sides’ flint, or fire, signs of adaptation to the cold environment in the glaciations eras.
Later on, Neandertal took his place; first species originating from Europe, he left numerous remnants of the tools he used or the game he hunted, until he disappeared 30 000years ago. He was the first human ancestor to bury the dead, thus testifying of a spiritual behaviour.
But it is the emergence of our direct ancestor, Homo Sapiens Sapiens, or Cro-Magnon, 35 000 years ago, that gives the “Valley of Man” its particularity: the abundance of symbolic and artistic vestige, like sets of jewels made of teeth or pearls, sculptures, engravings. And of course the beautiful adorned caves, Lascaux, Font de Gaume, Combarelles, Cap Blanc and so many others. These ancestors were nomadic hunters living on natural resources. So how can we explain the abundance of discoveries made in the region? First they had very favourable conditions: game, fish and flint for tool making, a perfect climate. Also, limestone offers a good protection from natural destruction.
Many wonderful places can be visited in Perigord. Here the first prehistoric chronology was established, still considered as a reference.Why not start with the National Museum of Prehistory, located in Les Eyzies: it displays 400 000 years of human history. Then you can visit one of the numerous sites that have been searched carefully for 150 years, and still are.
But the most famous discovery, the Lascaux caves, was not intentional. In 1940, four adventurous boys went after their lost dog. When they found out the cave was covered with paintings, they informed their teacher, who called for one of the best prehistory specialist, Henri Breuil for authentification.
Lascaux, the eighth wonder, like others, was never inhabited. The galleries are covered with paintings representing animals the ancestors didn’t hunt for food, as we know from the bones found in other places. They picked up their colours in the surrounding nature, using ferrous and manganese oxides. Today, we still don’t know why they chose remote places for the symbolic representation.
Due to the number of visitors, the Lascaux caves started to develop fungus in the fifties. They were closed to the public in 1963, after an exact replica was built. Today, Lascaux II, a few meters from the actual cave, offers the visitors the same emotions as the real one. Definitely worth a trip.