Out and About: History

During the time of the Romans, the Dordogne, as part of the province of Aquitaine extended almost as far north as the Loire River. During the 10th and 12th century the title of Duke of Aquitaine was held by the counts of Poitiers. In 1152 the area became an English possession when Eleanor of Aquitaine, daughter of the last duke, married the heir to the throne of England. It remained English until the 15th century when it was annexed by France at the end of the Hundred Years War.

The Hundred Years War was an intermittent struggle between England and France in the 14th and 15th century. It is said to have started in 1337 and ended in 1453. It involved several generations of English and French struggling over the legitimate succession to the French crown.

The Vézère Valley is home to several hundred archaeological sites. The two major sites are found at Eyzies-de-Tayac and Lascaux, near Montignac. They are amongst some two dozen other painted caves and 150 prehistoric settlements in the Vézère Valley that in 1979 were collectively added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The caves at Eyzies-de-Tayac include some of the most significant finds of the Upper Palaeolithic (from about 40,000 to 10,000 years ago) and Middle Palaeolithic (200,000 to 40,000 years ago) periods. They include the multicoloured animal drawings of the Font-des-Gaume cave and an incredible display of stalactites and stalagmites in the Grand Roc.

The Lascaux caves contain an outstanding display of prehistoric art that has been carbon dated to the late Aurignacian period (15,000 – 13,000 years ago). In all there are some 600 paintings and drawings, many depicting animals and a further 1500 engravings. The depictions include huge auroches (some 16 feet long), curious two-horned animals, red deer, bovids, great herds of horses, stags and bison. The theory is that the caves served as a centre for magical and hunting rites.

The original caves were opened to the public from 1948 to 1963. Unfortunately the site was damaged by the footfall of thousands of visitors. The installed artificial lighting faded the colours of the paintings and promoted algae growth. A partial replica ‘Lascaux II’ was constructed in the early 1980s and is open for public viewing (see the section on activities).

For further information on the history of prehistoric man and the archaeological finds in the region visit arachnis.asso.fr/dordogne.