denis peryrony


  • Périgord
  • Teacher in Les Eyzies

Born in Cussac in Dordogne in 1869 and died in Sarlat in 1954, Denis Peyrony is an important actor in the Prehistory of Périgord Noir. A teacher in Les Eyzies from 1891 to 1910, he quickly became passionate about this period of history. 

An extraordinary journey

At the end of the First World War, he founded the National Museum of Prehistory des Eyzies, of which he will be the first director, as well as inspector of prehistoric monuments.
He was a student of Émile Cartailhac and an excavation companion of theAbbot Henri Breuil and Louis Capitan, with whom he discovered the Combarelles cave and the one at Font-de-Gaume.

It is also said that in his youth, he went to this Cave of the Deaf, also called “Font-de-Gaume”, where he wrote his surname:

It was visited for a long time without suspecting what it contained, so much so that Mr. Peyrony himself, when he was starting out in teaching, inscribed his name on a beautiful painting of a bison without seeing it.

What he perhaps regretted when he wrote to Father Henri Breuil only

“Beautiful paintings unfortunately slightly degraded by visitors’ inscriptions”.

A new era, Prehistory

It was a time when the railway line between Périgueux and Les Eyzies was brand new and where antique dealers and other traders could still get confused with prehistorians... It was a time when “antediluvian” man was necessarily primitive and where excavations were more the subject of explosive investigations than precise stratigraphic surveys. In short, it was a precursor time to the archaeological science that we know today.

In Savignac-de-Miremont, he excavated the Ferrassie site (1901-1921), major Neanderthal site which confirms, following the discovery of the Chapel of the Saints, that Neanderthal man carried out burials. He also excavated at Madeleine, at Moustier, at the Ruth site, at Micoque, at the Devil's Fourneau, at the Castanet shelter, the Poisson shelter, Laugerie-Haute...

From prehistory to tourism

In 1920, he was at the origin of the creation of the tourist office of Les Eyzies, where he organized the first visits to the prehistoric sites of the region. Finally in 1931, he went to the inauguration of the famous statue of "Primitive Man" by Paul Dardé. For the record, Capitan and Peyrony, in 1923, were already talking about the creation of this statue:

“For this famous sculptor Dardé who wants to make a primitive man, stick the statue in a natural environment as they do in the fine arts, it will be necessary to study the thing (entrance to the castle? Under the shelter of the castle? In Laugerie-haute? ) but above all it will be necessary to prevent him from getting fancy”?

At that time, far from any fantasy, it was considered that this Neanderthal man was 

“The pre-man emerging from animality like the diamond from its matrix”

Denis Peyrony thus actively participated in making Eyzies the “world capital of prehistory”, the heritage creation of prehistoric remains, as well as the development of tourism and the popularization of prehistoric knowledge with the general public.

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