Introduction to prehistory in Dordogne
Vézère Valley in Black Périgord, the Valley of the Prehistoric Times
Thanks to its unique and numerous prehistoric sites, the Black Périgord is known all over the world. In fact, it is one of the first birthplace of the human evolution knowledge. In the unique Vézère Valley, between Montignac and les Eyzies, there are more than 200 paleolithic sites, among which the famous Painted Caves registered as a “Unesco World Heritage Site”.
400.000 years ago, Prehistory began in Vézère Dordogne, with the coming of the Homo Erectus from Africa. Some testimonies of a somewhat advanced technology were found out (such as the flints and the use of fire). Thus, it was proved the Homo erectus could adapt himself to the cold glaciation environment and the harsh conditions throughout Europe.
The Neanderthal Man and The Cro Magnons
Later, the first European specie to develop itself in the Dordogne Vézère was known as the Nanderthal Man.
30000 years ago, this specie disappeared but it left many vestiges of its tools and of the game animals they used to hunt.
They were the first of our human ancestors to bury the deads. The graves of the Ferrassie and du Moustier are excellent examples of this dating tradition.
However important these different influences were, the most influential tradition dates back to 35000 years ago with the Homo sapiens sapiens or the Cro Magnons who came to Dordogne Vézère. They created and made lots of sets of jewels (beads, pierced teeth, bracelets), sculptures and carvings on bones and stones, and fabulous painted caves such as Lascaux, Font de Gaume, Combarelles, Cap Blanc, Castel Merle, Bara-Bahau and many others all of them being worth visiting...
This specie also created many new and innovative techniques as the work on stone, bone, reindeer wood mammoth ivory are concerned. Thanks to the use of these new materials, they were able to create new tools such as needles and the projectile throwings (sticks) . All these ancestors were nomad hunters and gatherers. They lived along with the natural resources.
It is worth noting that it has just been 10000 years since Men have become sedentary farmers whereas the nomad way of life represents up to 99% of the whole Human History.
Why so many prehistoric relics in Dordogne Vézère Valley?
We could say our ancestors were attracted by convenient conditions, with essential resources : game animals, fish, flint use to create some tools. Couldn’t these conditions be found anywhere else?
Plenty of relics in Périgord can be explained or backed up by other aspects as well.
First of all, the limestone (roche calcaire) protected the cave relics extremely well from natural and human destructive elements.
Lastly, numerous sites are now famous in Dordogne because of the long search and protective Historical approach. For about 150 years, many Excavations and studies have been made to improve our historical knowledge and to explain even more precisely our heritage.
Here, the first prehistorians established a chronology considered as a world reference. Well known all over the world, La Micoque, Le Moustier, La Madeleine are different sites which gave their names to the important cultures of the Prehistoric Times.
And this research is carrying on ... Today, the Black Périgord, in particular along with the Regourdou site play a key role in the questions about the History of Humanity: some truths are to be found out about the Neanderthal disappearance, their relationships with our ancestors-the Homo sapiens sapiens, the beginning of Art and so many other issues...
With numerous sites open to the public, the Musée National de la Préhistoire/ the National Museum of Prehistory the Lecture and the educational workshops, both amateurs and tourists are invited to take a part, however trifling it may appear, in the searches to know more about humanity!