Trip Report
A Search for Cave art, Prehistoric women, Wine & Adventures in France
Thursday September 24, 2015 4:33pm
Thwarted in my searches for live prehistoric cave women in Idaho, Nevada, & Utah, it became clear that Heidi & I should go to where some of the original prehistoric cave women lived in Europe for further research on their origin & habits.

Heidi & I flew into Paris & spent a couple nights there getting over our jet lag. On our 3rd day, we took a train south about 225 miles to Limoges, spent the night there, then took a train 50 miles south to Brive-la-Gaillarde, the largest town in the Dordogne area.
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We had booked a five-day cave-art tour with a highly-recommended 68 year old Brit who lives nearby, and he met us in Brive. After the first afternoon with our guide, retired historian, anthropologist & Renaissance-man Steve Burman (there was one other person on our tour), I knew we were with someone who could help us to delve into the deepest roots of prehistoric cave art.

Steve had reserved rooms for us in a quaint 19th century mansion/hotel (quaint in this case meaning: no elevator, no windows, minimal lighting & a shower down the hall from our 4th floor large attic room. Apparently due to an earlier misunderstanding by the hotel, when Steve cancelled another room, we got the worst room in the hotel.

We were centrally located on the Vezere River in the village of Montignac, near the famous Cave of Lascaux cave art site. We visited many nearby caves , rock shelters, & museums in the next four days.

The original Lascaux cave was discovered in 1941 & became a major tourist attraction in the late 1940's with thousands of daily visitors. Unfortunately the heat & moisture from those visitors started to destroy the 17,000 year old art. The cavern was closed to the public and two nearby reproductions were built that closely reproduce the original art & cave experience. Construction is now underway on a third reproduction that will present the entire original Lascaux cave.

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Steve shared with us that the area was first populated by Neanderthals around 50,000 years ago & then by our Homo sapiens ancestors about 40,000 years ago. The rock in the area is mostly limestone and the riverside cliffs provided lots of elevated ledges for folks to live on in “rock-shelters”. Humans did not live in the many caves & the art is often deep within the caves, in totally dark spaces. At the time the cave-art was painted, the climate was arctic, due to the ice age & the area was fairly densely populated with both humans & wildlife. The chief food source was reindeer, but a number of other, now-extinct, species are pictured in the art. A popular subject was Megaloceras, a giant deer that stood up to 10 feet high.
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The art is sometimes very difficult to accurately date since the paints were mostly metallic compounds, but carbon 14 dating of wood & charcoal found deep inside the caves & near the art, yield dates from 25,000 to 13,000 years ago for sites in the area.

Although most of the cave art sites are privately owned, the French government tightly regulates visitation, to avoid repetition of the Caves of Lascaux fiasco that severely damaged much of the cave art there. In some caves, visitors are limited to fewer than 200 people daily & the caves are closed for much of the year.

Our first cave, Grotte de Rouffignac, aka The Cave of 100 Mammoths, is accessed by a small electric tram that travels ½ kilometer inside the cave to where the spectacular art was often incised in soft clay on the surface of the limestone, or in harder areas, painted with either Red Ochre (iron oxide) or pyrolusite (black manganese dioxide). This cave was a tourist attraction in the 1500’s, and many pieces of art are also defaced by dates or signatures.

(you can click on the photos to make them larger)

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The next day, we toured medieval Sarlat, the second-largest town in the area, and the place where most cave art tourists stay, due to its concentration of small hotels, B&B’s, & eateries. The Dordogne area is also famous for its Pate from force-fed ducks. In the Sarlat market you can pick up a whole huge duck liver for about $20.00 per pound.
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We then drove south into the Dordogne Valley to the Grotte De Cougnac caves. Small groups, at half-hour intervals, tour one cave that is a fantasy of sparkling calcite stalactites & stalagmites. Then a short walk takes you into a similar, but not as sparkly cave with some noteworthy art. Some of the best art is in a large chamber with many stalactites & stalagmites, some of which were broken off to provide better views of the art 20,000 years ago, or to hold lamps. Also some show wear marks that may indicate they were banged on to produce music.
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Day 3 we toured both Lascaux 2 & 3 and were awed by the large and spectacular images that when first painted around 17,000 years ago, obviously took a huge effort, including construction of scaffolds. There are 364 paintings of horses as well as 90 paintings of stags. Also represented are cattle and bison, each representing about 5% of the images. A smattering of other images include seven felines, a bird, a bear, a rhinoceros, and a human.

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Morning of Day 4 we went to the National Museum of Prehistory in nearby Les Eyziers to see their huge collection of cave artifacts. They do have a statue that offers a concept of how cavemen looked, but they didn’t have any cavewoman representations.
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They also have a collection of ancient carvings, which include a copy of an 18”¯ high statue of a 25,000 year old prehistoric cavewoman. The original was found in the area. That statue deeply conflicted with my image of how prehistoric cavewomen looked, and I refused to accept it as an accurate representation.
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I was impressed with their collection of Neanderthal "Hand-axes."
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Then we took a short drive & hiked up to another cave, Font de Gaume, with still more wonderful art. This site limits visitors to 200 daily and is very difficult to get tickets for. Steve had booked our tickets back in January.

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Finally late-afternoon of day 4, we found some joyful information about prehistoric cave women. At the Cap Blanc rock-shelter site, large well-done images, mostly of horses, are partly-sculpted out of the limestone. Archaeologists found a young woman’s bones buried just below a beautiful horse sculpture. She had apparently died of natural causes and had been buried with her rock sculpture tools Anthropologists recreated her figure in both a bust & a painting. I felt much better about the local prehistoric cavewomen.
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After touring a now abandoned, small medieval village, that is perched on a cliff above the Vizere River & below an abandoned castle on the morning of day 5, we picked up a Euro-rental car and set off on our long & scenic drive to the village of Vallon-Pont-d’Arc above the Ardeche River near Avignon. Most of the first day's drive was on a French version of our interstate highways. It was easy driving on great roads, with a way cool bridge along the way. The "truck-stops" along these highways usually include a pastry shop along with the usual "truck-stop" amenities.
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Much more to come later!

  Trip Report Views: 2,808
About the Author
Fritz is a trad climber from Choss Creek, ID.


Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
  Sep 24, 2015 - 04:49pm PT
Yes, it's a tough choice between the Raquel Welch and Daryl Hannah renditions...
Spider Savage

Mountain climber
The shaggy fringe of Los Angeles
  Sep 24, 2015 - 05:32pm PT
Great trip! Thanks for the report.

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  Sep 24, 2015 - 05:40pm PT
They were Awesome looking prehistoric cavewomen!

Awesome! I know from the movies!


Just livin' the dream
  Sep 24, 2015 - 05:39pm PT
AWESOME TR, Fritz!!!

I loved the story about the woman sculptor buried with her tools.

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  Sep 26, 2015 - 05:26pm PT
We over-nighted in the city of Clermont Ferrand, where the original Michelin tire factory is. An oncoming lightning storm and their medieval cathedral provided a spectacular sunrise the next morning.

We then had a long stormy rural drive through mountains & steep river valleys to the village of Vallon-Pont-d'Arc.

Near there is Chauvet Cave, with the oldest human cave paintings in the world. Some have been carbon dated as 36,000 years old, but the paintings have been off-limits to tourists since the cave was discovered in 1994. However, a spectacular & large new museum opened in May 2015. It showcases a near-exact reproduction of the most interesting parts of the cave. We found the La Caverne du Pont d’Arc Ardeche museum well worth the drive. The nearby Pont d’Arc (arch) across the Ardeche River is also spectacular.

After it rained all night, the river was 25 feet higher the next morning.

The museum was a few miles above town and per instructions we arrived early for our 11:00 A.M. English language tour. There is a good sized interpretive museum with artifacts & full-sized figures of some of the animals that lived in the area 36,000 years ago & even a figure of a prehistoric cavewoman.

At the time the paintings were done, cave bears occupied the cave during the winter months.

Werner Herzog made a movie about the art in Chauvet cave. The Cave of Forgotten Dreams.¯
Link to Bradshaw Foundation website for Chauvet Cave, with much more information & photos.

The age and complexity of the art in Chauvet cave destroyed a lot of theories about early human painting techniques gradually evolving to produce the masterpieces painted around 20,000 years ago like those at Lascaux. Suddenly, here were complex masterpieces of human art produced 16,000 to 19,000 years earlier.

We worked over to the reconstructed cave and enjoyed our tour. Don't expect to linger, but our tour lasted almost an hour. However tours start every 8-10 minutes, so we had a group in front of us, & another group close behind us during our tour.

Extinct animals in the below paintings include bison, cave lions, cave bears, & wooly rhinos. There are 442 animals painted on the walls of the original cave.

After our tour and lunch, it was time to make our way down into the Rhone River valley to seek for more evidence of prehistoric cavewomen & to check out the local Cotes du Rhone wines.


Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
  Sep 25, 2015 - 07:50am PT
Nice! Aren't you glad you didn't camp on that sand bar under le Pont D'Arc and went
to a proper bar instead? So, did you ever reply to my query on the Every Picture thread
whether those rocks were in fact the galets roulés of Chateauneuf du Pape fame?

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Sep 25, 2015 - 07:53am PT

You're such a f*#king rock star Fritz.

Our tireless search continues.....

Trad climber
The Circuit, Tonasket WA
  Sep 25, 2015 - 08:21am PT
Fascinating! I can't say how envious of your trip I am.
The last few years I have read and studied a great deal about human evolution, and the time period of the cave art was (I think) a pivotal point in the story.
Also, very happy to see someone else shares my concept of what a cave woman looked liked!
Thanks for posting and sharing your pictures.

Social climber
  Sep 25, 2015 - 09:55am PT
Excellent stuff!

Visited the area around Foix, long ago, with its caves. The artwork from that time, so, so long ago, is incredible!

Big Wall climber
Republic, WA
  Sep 25, 2015 - 10:44am PT
What a fun and interesting trip! I had to check my maps. Masha's sister is south of there between Lourdes and Tarbes. She says there is rock art near there in the foothills of the Pyrenees, south of a place called Lannemezan. Grottes d'Gargas is what it is called.

  Sep 25, 2015 - 10:35am PT
Good stuff. Thank you.

Trad climber
  Sep 25, 2015 - 11:56am PT

Trad climber
Upland, CA
  Sep 25, 2015 - 01:47pm PT
Wow, this is a fantastic TR. Thanks so much for taking the time to post all the pictures. (The only one I didn't like was the forcefed duck liver.)

Isn't it amazing to be in the presence of something that was created by humans that long ago? It's just mind-boggling.
Take care, Phyl

The Granite State.
  Sep 25, 2015 - 02:49pm PT
Great TR man, thanks for taking the time to share it with us.
looking sketchy there...

Social climber
Lassitude 33
  Sep 25, 2015 - 03:51pm PT
Great stuff. TFPU!

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  Sep 25, 2015 - 04:55pm PT
Thanks all for posting great comments, or just your enjoyment of travel threads like this. Wayno! Yes! Lots of Cave art in the Pyrenees & northern Spain.

After that adventure, our way home was by driving to Avignon in the Rhone River Valley, finding the main train station (which was a little stressful) & turning our rental-car in, then taking a river cruise up the Rhone River to the new natural history museum in Lyon.

We did take a bus trip downriver to the onetime Roman city of Arles, also famous as where Vincent Van Gogh lived & painted before his death. We visited the onetime hospital he stayed in after cutting off his ear & a eatery he made famous, with a picture of it lit up at night, but unfortunately his house in Arles was accidently flattened by American bombers in 1944, who were trying to destroy a Rhone River bridge.

Time passed slowly on the river, but we managed to while away the days with walking river towns, & touring castles, ruins, & wineries. The evenings were given up to food & wine, in our attempt to get along with our fellow geriatrics on the boat. However, we found the main dining room noisy & claustrophobic. We usually ate on the front deck of the boat with great views & quiet surroundings.

Lyon is the 3rd largest city in France and has both modern & medieval sections.

We enjoyed a short tour of the mostly older downtown area on the first afternoon, then hiked down the river to the Confluence Museum of Natural history the next morning. I had not been in a natural history museum in a long time & had never been in a French natural history museum. I found the eclectic collections of rocks, fossils, & dead things fascinating, but of most interest was a recreation of a life-sized prehistoric Neanderthal cavewoman as well as a Homo sapiens cavewoman.

I felt like I had found as much background on prehistoric cavewomen as possible & it was time to go home.

We did manage to get home from Lyon by way of a bus tour of the Burgandy countryside, then some wine-tasting in Beaune, the wine capital of Burgandy, and a high-speed TGV train back to Paris from Lyon the next morning. Woooo-whee! 200 MPH. in a train is darn awesome!

I will mention, that although we know only minimal greetings, travel, & restaurant-survival French language, every word we learned before the trip was of value & we were un-failingly well treated by everyone French, even in Paris. A hearty greeting to every shopkeeper & everyone you talk to, & great politeness will take you a long way in France.

We didn't enjoy the 25 hours of travel time from Paris to Boise. After deplaning in Boise, as always, after international travel, Heidi & I both swore we were "never going anywhere again!"


Trad climber
Upland, CA
  Sep 25, 2015 - 05:53pm PT
Even better! I tell Michael maybe we'll do one of those river cruise things when we're older. I'm thinking maybe 80. You are too young for one. But I have some friends who love them.

Mountain climber
Colorado & Nepal
  Sep 25, 2015 - 09:10pm PT
This was a perfect thread for an anthropologist and francophile. Merci beaucoup!

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Sep 26, 2015 - 05:21am PT
Nice Fritz and Heidi! Let your travels never cease. Angela and I are still in cave art to speak of and Turkish wine doesn't match French but it sure is beautiful here.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
  Sep 26, 2015 - 06:38am PT
In my BC retirement dream package there would be a cave with fine vintages, eh?

It would be provided with a separate entrance for the cave women,
who would not be allowed into the MAN CAVE,
which would be adorned with paintings by Vargas de Vallejo.

Salud, Fritz and Heidi!

Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Sep 26, 2015 - 11:35am PT
Looks like a great trip,
Did you get climbing???? 😀👍

Sport climber
  Sep 26, 2015 - 11:53am PT

Two well wine-marinated merry-cans, Heidi et Fritz, on a south-european TR. TFPU!
Hardly Visible

Social climber
Llatikcuf WA
  Sep 26, 2015 - 12:19pm PT
Most excellent! TFPU

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  Sep 26, 2015 - 05:16pm PT
Thanks again to those that post up comments or just enjoyment.

Phylp! To our amazement there were a fair number of folks on the boat in their 40's & 50's. Before we did a Rhine cruise last year, I agreed with you that we were too young. After 10 days of French immersion, mostly on our own, it was great to get back to "our people." Plus at each stop, you can do your own adventure, and you do not have to shuffle on & off tour buses with the fat, the slow, & the lame.

Tami! Norwegian eh? Likely he had ancestors in the Dordonge, since it's estimated that about 10% of the total humans in the world lived nearby at that time & Scandinavia was buried under glaciers.

Harley the cat got to vacation with his rich aunt Renae, who lives conveniently near the Boise airport. After he punished us for abandoning, him for a while, things are good with Harley on the Ranchette again.

Ezra? Climbing?? Sorry, this was a serious research trip & there was no time for climbing frivolity.