Les Eyzies – the centre of world prehistory?

Posted by Steve and Judie Burman, Caves and Castles

The long awaited Pole International de la Prehistoire, Les Eyzies

The long awaited Pole International de la Prehistoire, Les Eyzies

The long awaited Pole International de la Prehistoire sandwiched between the cliffs and the River Beune in Les Eyzies is at last open! We say “at last”, because in common with many projects these days, it over ran and the opening last Autumn did not happen, nor in the Spring, but along came Summer and the opening of the centre – on the 24th July!

We’ve been watching its progress, and visitors have asked us ”what is it?”. We’ll use the Centre’s Director, Jean Luc Delord’s words:-

“Les Eyzies is in the heart of a very important area for prehistory. It has been inhabited by man for more than 400,000 years. There are many world heritage sites such as Lascaux, but there are other lesser-known sites of great scientific significance as well. The Centre will provide information on all the sites in the area, so will be a good place for tourists to begin their journey.

It will house things such as a reading room with thousands of documents, seminar rooms, temporary exhibitions, internet access and facilities for school groups.”

Excellent video viewing area - unless you are disabled!

Excellent video viewing area - unless you are disabled!

So what did we think of it? Well, for a start, we visited with a friend who is recovering from a major knee operation and the seating in the video-viewing area is so low that it cannot possibly be used by anyone who is anything than A1 fit! Did they have a wheelchair available? No! But they agreed this was a great idea. Furthermore, the lift was out of action (less than a month since the opening!) so access to the temporary exhibition space (and toilets!) was very kindly provided by a sympathetic member of staff from the ‘Acceuil’ – welcome desk – via the goods lift! We had to be careful exiting the lift as the light switch is dark brown and what colour is the wall? Dark brown!!

A superb collection of images taken in the area by Robert Doisneau

A superb collection of images taken in the area by Robert Doisneau

The exhibition of Robert Doisneau’s photographic collection is superb and we all enjoyed it. The photographs date back to the 1930’s and there must be local people who suddenly realise it’s themselves they’re seeing. A solemn youngster bearing a religious group’s standard sporting white gloves and what looks to be a cardigan lovingly knitted for the occasion, perhaps by a doting auntie or mother? The expressions on the faces of a couple of ladies regarding a chicken being held out for their approval in Sarlat market are a picture in themselves. It made us think no way were they going to buy it or perhaps not at the price being asked! There are photos taken in Les Combarelles – definitely not allowed these days, but the guides in Bernifal still use the type of lamps they’re using back then!

It’s a wonderful exhibition, but we couldn’t help but think that it could have been displayed just as effectively in the National Museum of Prehistory just down the road, or even the Tourist Office.

What else? Lots of open space – the entrance is through a light airy area with 3 large video screens, BUT you can’t see the images because the light floods in!

The computer area is popular with youngsters

The computer area is popular with youngsters

The computers seemed to be popular with youngsters with attentive parents standing by to help and advise. Little information was available about this area, so we’re not much the wiser.

The ‘PIP’, teamed up with Abri Pataud this summer to organise a series of talks given by high profile speakers such as Jean Clottes and Randy White. Another series is planned for early September focussed around the 70th Anniversary of the discovery of Lascaux. The auditorium is comfortable and well laid out, but since the dialogue is all in French with no translation, this is not going to help a large percentage of tourists who have little or no knowledge of the French language! But for experts like Steve, it is a great opportunity to keep up-to-date with latest happenings, but again, we have to say, couldn’t the Museum have fulfilled this role?

Do we think it is the ideal place for visitors to begin their tour? Well, access is free so that’s tempting and the 3D relief map is a great way to see the relation of one site to another, but frankly, so far we don’t think you’d leave any more equipped to really get the most out of your precious time in the area. That needs forethought and planning – what tickets need booking? How do I get them? How do I travel from this site to that? What days are the various site’s open? It’s so much easier to take a Tour and have it all done for you.

To quote one of our visitors: “Steve’s tour was fantastic! I am still awestruck by the fact that I stood where my human ancestors stood many thousands of years ago and could see the actual art they produced. What impressed me most was the quality of much of the art – these are not mere scratchings by primitive people, they are masterpieces, full of expression. They allow a glimpse inside the minds of our ancestors, and their feelings towards the animals. We could have never arranged access to these treasures without Steve’s knowledge and assistance“

We hope the Centre will prove to be the success that Jean Luc Delord anticipates – watch this space, we’ll be keeping an eye on it.

PS Why is it called the ‘Pole’? Well, the thinking is the world of Prehistory will revolve around it!

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Steve and Judie Burman live in the beautiful Vezere Valley in the Dordogne region of South-West France.  Together they run Caves and Castles, specialising in prehistoric Cave Art and medieval Castles Tours.  Small groups tours (up to six people) are based at their recently converted farmhouse.  Alternatively, they offer non-residential tours for a day or longer.

Professional archaeologist, Steve and his wife Judie love to share their passion for the ‘Cradle of Humanity.’  Its history and culture are awe-inspiring.  The area is also famed for its gastronomy and wine. You won’t be disappointed!

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.

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One Response to Les Eyzies – the centre of world prehistory?

  1. Marilyn Mayo says:

    My husband and I will arrive in Paris (from the US) on Oct. 27. We would like to tour several caves in the Dordogne area and see the big museum. We’ll probably take a train down from Paris. We would like to tour for about 3-4 days and have no hotel reservations yet. We’ll then rent a car and drive to Limoges and to other places.

    Do you have any tours available at that time? Please advise.This sounds so exciting! Thank you very much.

    Cordially, Marilyn Mayo

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