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Vézère Valley Paleolithic Caves

Hotspot of Stone Age art
From 400,000 BC

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UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Vézère Valley in the French Dordogne is world famous as a hotspot of Stone Age culture, due to its network of 150 paleolithic caves and rock shelters, of which about 30 are decorated.

Since 1979, the most important of these sites, clustered around Les Eyzies, and along a 25-km stretch of the Vézère river system from Lascaux to La Mouthe, have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This is listed under the title "The Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley."

Why is the Vézère Valley Important?

Because its a goldmine of paleolithic art and culture.

First, the Vézère Valley has a long history of human occupation, from about 400,000 BC.

First by Homo erectus (Homo erectus tautavelensis), then by Neanderthals, and lastly by a modern variant of Homo sapiens, known as Cro-Magnons, who were named after the Vézère's Cro-Magnon rock shelter.

These occupations spanned a number of tool industries, including those of the Late Acheulean, Mousterian, Micoquien, Tayacien, Châtelperronian, Aurignacian, Gravettian, Solutrean and Magdalenian cultures.

Three of these tool cultures are named after sites in the Vézère Valley: the Mousterian (after Le Moustier), the Micoquien (after La Micoque), and Magdalenian (after Abri de la Madeleine).

As a result, archaeologists and anthropologists have gleaned huge insights from the archaeology, burials, stone tools, artifacts and domestic middens left behind.

Second, the caves and shelters of the Vézère Valley are celebrated for their remarkable collection of prehistoric art, including dramatic cave paintings, exquisite rock engravings and unique relief sculpture.

Famous Cave Art

A number of artworks found in the caves of the Vézère Valley, are widely regarded as masterpieces of their type.

Map of Paleolithic Caves and Rock Shelters Located in the Vezere Valley, Dordogne
(1) Lascaux (2) Castel-Merle (3) Le Moustier (4) Abri Cellier (5) La Madeleine (6) La Micoque (7) Laugerie-Haute (8) Laugerie-Basse (9) Grand Roc (10) La Ferrassie (11) Abri du Poisson (12) Abri Cro-Magnon (13) Abri Pataud (14) La Mouthe (15) Grotte du Sorcier (16) Bara-Bahau (17) Rouffignac (18) Font-de-Gaume (19) Les Combarelles (20) Bernifal Cave (21) Cap Blanc (22) Abri de Laussel.

UNESCO Listed Caves

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Other Caves in and around the Vézère Valley

Other Hotspots of Paleolithic Culture

There are several hotspots of Stone Age cultural activity in Europe. Here are three:

Swabian Jura, Germany
The paleolithic caves here are world famous for their ivory carvings from the Aurignacian (40,000-30,000 BC). In 2017, the sites of Hohlenstein-Stadel, Bocksteinhöhle, Geissenklösterle, Hohle Fels, Sirgenstein and Vogelherd - became part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site entitled 'Caves and Ice Age Art in the Swabian Jura'.

North Coast of Spain
This region, which encompasses the Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque country, contains a world famous cluster of paleolithic caves, including Altamira, Altxerri, El Castillo, La Pasiega, and a dozen more. It forms the UNESCO World Heritage Site entitled: 'Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain'.

French Pyrenees
This region contains an important cluster of Stone Age caves, including: Gargas, Tuc d'Audoubert, Trois Frères, Bédeilhac Cave, Mas d'Azil Cave, and Niaux.

See: Prehistoric Art Timeline.

References

(1) UNESCO Description of Vézère Valley Sites.
(2) Lawson, Andrew J. (2012). Painted Caves: Palaeolithic Rock Art in Western Europe. Oxford University Press. p.25 ISBN 9780199698226.
(3) Clottes, J. Cave Art. (2008) Phaidon. ISBN 978-0-7148-5723-7.

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