French Language Blog

Prehistoric France Posted by on May 3, 2015 in Culture

Have you ever seen Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)? If not, rent it now. It’s an incredibly powerful movie that allows those of us who are not archeologists to commune with the past in a meaningful way.

While not about French culture per se, Herzog’s documentary focuses on the Chauvet caves in southern France, the earliest known (and most well preserved) cave paintings in the world. These cave paintings, mostly depicting various animals and hand prints, were created approximately 30,000 to 32,000 years ago (National Post). The discovery of this early art stunned many experts, who believed that artwork from this period would not be as complex.

But this is not the only such cave art in France. In fact, France is home to many such grottes peintes, or painted grottos. La grotte de Lascaux is another famous grotto, located in Dordogne, with paintings that date to over 17,000 years ago. The Lascaux cave was discovered by a French teenager in 1940, and was open to the public in 2008, when it was closed due to issues with mold due, in part, to tourist traffic (The Independent). Now, only experts can view the cave, filled with over 2,000 images of animals, human figures, and signs.

La Vallé des Merveilles, or the Valley of Miracles, is yet another important prehistoric site in France, located on the border with Italy in the Maritime Alps. Some of the largest concentrations of gravures (rock engravings, or petroglyphs) can be found here. Created by Bronze Age inhabitants of the valley, there are more than 10,000 rock engravings.

If you are visiting the beautiful city of Montpellier, make sure to take a day trip to Viols-en-Laval in Hérault, just twenty kilometers from the city. The Bronze Age village of Cambous is located here, the oldest reconstituted stone village in France, which was built approximately 2800 years ago (Cambous). You can explore this incredible village and feel deeply connected to our Bronze Age ancestors.

If you are interested in seeing more of France’s prehistoric sites, take a look at the Tourisme en France website. You can also check out this map, which pinpoints important preshistoric sites, as well as museums dedicated to prehistory.


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About the Author: Elizabeth Schmermund

Bonjour tout le monde! I'm a freelance writer, doctoral student, mom, and Francophile. I'm excited to share some of my experiences living in France, as well as the cultural nuances that I've learned being married to a Frenchman, with all of you. To find out more about me, feel free to check out my website at A la prochaine!