Prehistory in the Vézère Valley
To quote Abbé Glory in 1944, the same Abbé Glory who made tracings in the Lascaux Cave: “Montignac and Les Eyzies are the Arcs de Triomphe of prehistoric Champs Elysées.” The Vézère Valley is home to an incredibly rich ecosystem and was extremely welcoming to its early human inhabitants. And humans arrived very early indeed as there are traces from at least 400,000 years ago, right up until the modern day. But why were humans drawn to this area? It is due to the existing shape of the landscape, with its shelters and caves that would have afforded them numerous different ways to express how they viewed the world. There are sculptures as well as engravings and paintings. There are some outside, in the open air, such as the abri du Cap Blanc shelter containing monumental sculptures. And there are also deep caves, such as Lascaux and Font-de-Gaume. Then there are the renowned Combarelles engravings, a cave gallery where an individual or group made engravings that would have extended the entire length of this corridor because they really did cover the entire wall with delicate interlaced engravings. Dwelling areas were also discovered, sites that would have had workshops or masonry studios, and suchlike. There is a real variety of all types of human occupation. Over 400,000 years, this region has seen Neanderthal man, then the cohabitation of Neanderthal man with homo sapiens and then homo sapiens, of course. And for Neanderthal man, we have burials sites, with the largest concentrations found in the Vézère Valley and the Middle East. In 1979, the French government decided to enrol this incredible ensemble onto the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites as it met the fundamental criteria required for world heritage. Criterion I is the representation of a masterpiece of human creative genius and criterion III is to bear testimony to a civilisation that has disappeared. And once you know that prehistory is exactly what brings us all together, no matter where we are on the planet, because we are all of this same origin, the Vézère Valley’s enrolment onto the list of World Heritage Sites becomes very significant.