Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley
Prehistoric Sites And Decorated Caves Of The Vézère Valley
Cultural France Europe And North America Communes Of Les Eyzies De Tayac, Tursac, Montignac-sur-vézère, Saint-leon-sur-vézère, Marquay, Manaurie-rouffignac And Saint-cirq-du Bugue, Department Of The Dordogne, Region Of Aquitaine

The objects and works of art found in the Vézère Valley bear extremely rare witness to long-extinct civilizations which are very difficult to understand. This material is of universal interest as being exceptional from historic as well as ethnological, anthropological and aesthetic points of view. Certain of the figurative ensembles of the caves of the Vézère are universally recognized as masterpieces of prehistoric art: the Venus de Laussel (Marquay), the frieze of horses in high relief of Cap-Blanc, and especially the renamed wall paintings of the Lascaux cave.

The Vézère valley is particularly interesting from an ethnological and anthropological as well as an aesthetic point of view because of its cave paintings, especially those of the Lascaux Cave, the discovery of which in 1940 was of great importance for the history of prehistoric art. The hunting scenes show some 100 animal figures, which are remarkable for their detail, rich colours and lifelike quality.

The prehistoric site covers an area approximately 30 km by 40 km and comprises 147 sites and 25 decorated caves. Besides skeletons, an important collection of objects (more than 500,000 flints, 148 sets of faunal remains, 844 utensils and works of art of various kinds) has been brought together which has made it possible to establish chronological cadre for the prehistoric civilizations of the European Quaternary period. There is no other prehistoric site in any other part of the world which equals site in the quantity, quality and variety of the finds.

Lascaux is far superior to some of the other caves in France and Spain, including Les Trois-Frères, Niaux, Altamira, Font-de-Gaume and Les Combarelles, because Lascaux is much larger than these caves and the artefacts are better preserved. The walls of Lascaux are covered in painted, drawn and engraved animals on the ancient stone, which proved difficult to reach. Scholars calculated that the ground was a different shape 17,000 years ago, so that the paintings on the walls were much easier to reach. The ground had sunk deeper and deeper over the years and made it hard gain access to the prehistoric paintings. When Breuil entered the cave he found that there was a very thick coating of calcite crystals, with some of the best preserved pictures painted on them. All of the paintings have lasted thousands of years without decaying or fading because the natural removal and replacement of the air in Lascaux does not cause deterioration of the paintings.

The animal art found in the caves depicts different species: bulls, bison and horses. Along with the many animals on the walls, there are some signs of human or semi-human representation. The human figures are not as richly defined or carefully executed as is the animal art. The depictions of animals involved in the hunt helped to assure or reassure the hunters of great success.