The Land of Painted Caves

Posted by Steve & Judie Burman, Caves & Castles –

The Land of Painted Caves – this is not only a description of where we live – the Vezere Valley, in the Dordogne region of France – but also the title of Jean Auel’s latest novel. It is an apt title both for the region and the book.

First the region – The Vezere Valley is a World Heritage Site and justifiably so – there are over 200 prehistoric sites here – some of which are unfortunately off limits to the public, but many which we do have the privilege to be able to see. And it is a privilege that should not be under estimated. Take Font de Gaume, for example, this closely monitored cave is the only polychrome (multicoloured) cave of its type in the world that is open to the public. That’s awesome. And so is the cave itself with over 230 paintings and engravings – the best known being the ‘Kissing Reindeer’ – a touching scene, exquisitely executed by an unknown prehistoric artist. Like all these prehistoric masterpieces, the environment in the cave is extremely fragile and there is a danger of it being over-visited and being forced to close in the same way the original Lascaux was. But fortunately, it is very closely monitored and controlled by the French authorities and numbers are firmly regulated to ensure the delicate balance within the cave is not disturbed.

Best known of all must be the world famous painted cave of Lascaux with its huge bulls and ‘Chinese’ horses. Closed in 1963 for its protection because the delicate paintings were being damaged by the influx of visitors, a facsimile was opened in 1983 and this is what we visit today. Because it is not the genuine article some people are put off visiting it. That is their loss! Although it is true that you can never recreate the atmosphere of the original cave, you can nevertheless be over-awed by the magnificence of the paintings which leap out at you from the walls and ceilings and marvel at the skill and dedication of our ancestors. When Picasso visited in 1952 he declared that he could teach them nothing, they already knew everything he did about perspective, motion, light, shade – it’s all captured and just stop to consider the difficult conditions in which these artists worked. Low light levels and they could never see their entire work in all its glory!

Secondly – the book. The long awaited 6th and final novel from Jean Auel is due for publication on the 29th March. 9 years since her last book ‘The Shelters of Stone’ it is eagerly awaited by her fans – and since 45 million copies of her books have sold, she clearly has a huge following. It is true the books are fiction – but she skilfully weaves fact and fiction together in a way that many people find compelling – even if they have never visited this area. What delights are in store, should they decide to come and explore this very special area known as ‘the Cradle of Mankind’ for very good reasons. Evidence of Cro-Magnon man – us – was first discovered here in 1868 when a quarry (‘Cro’ in the local dialect) belonging to M. Magnon was being dug for the railway being constructed close by.

Jean Auel has been crafting her novels for over 30 years during which time her research has been generously aided by some of the biggest names in the archaeological world and she appreciatively acknowledges their kindness and the invaluable help she has received. Paul Bahn, Jean Clottes, David Lewis-Williams – to mention just a few. These specialists in their fields have generously given their time and knowledge which Jean Auel has taken and woven into her tales. Some of it perhaps over-fanciful, but much is plausible and much is based on evidence generously shared by her collaborators.

The Shelters of Stone, book 5 in the Earth Children series, was published in 2002 and focused on the Vezere Valley and the cliffs of the Laugerie Haut which Jean Auel referred to as the 9th cave of the Zelandonii. Although it is not published yet, it is known that The Land of Painted Caves homes in on Lascaux – a fitting culmination to sign off great series of books. We await the book with pleasure – it may not be an academic tome, but if it awakens in people an interest in our past and the importance of understanding and preserving it, then it’s doing a good job, as well as being a good read.

It also opens up exciting possibilities for us – what a wonderful basis for a new Tour – The Land of Painted Caves. It’s going to be fun for us identifying the various sites used by Jean in her latest book – and when we’ve done that, we’d love to share it with you. So watch this space – we’ll be hosting the Land of Painted Caves Tour next year. Interested? Drop us an email and we’ll keep you in touch.

(The Land of Painted Caves will be published on 29th March 2011 by Crown Publishers)


Steve & 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 & medieval Castles Tours.  Small groups tours (up to 6) 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!

Get them to arrange your holiday in this stunning area of the Dordogne – email  or visit their website

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One Response to The Land of Painted Caves

  1. Maria Baum says:

    Good afternoon, your link to your e-mail doesn’t work in your site. Can you please let us know your e-mail? RE. reservations to your tour on June. Thank you!

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