Tuesday, October 6, 2009

France on $70 a Day – Font de Gaume Cave

This was written in the Dordogne, but, because Internet cafes were difficult to find, it was posted from California.

Last night we took chairs outside to study the sky. It was an especially clear night with little light from the new moon. When we both saw the shooting star, we knew it was a good luck sign commemorating our 21-month anniversary. (Okay, so maybe nobody else would have thought so, but, then, it was our shooting star so we still stand by our interpretation!)

This morning we got ready for our second trip back in time. We had tickets, purchased from the Tourist Bureau in Sarlat three days ago, to the Font de Gaume cave. It is necessary to purchase tickets in advance because only 180 visitors are allowed per day. Even with this limitation, our English-speaking guide hinted that it might close, too, eventually, if the cave develops the same problems that closed Lascaux.

Knowing this cave is the only one of its type (the others are Lascaux in Montignac, France, and Altimira in northern Spain) still open to the public adds a certain excitement to the visit. And, even though the Lascaux II reproduction—called the Sistine Chapel of Caves—may have been more vivid, we were looking at the actual drawings made by man over 19,000 years ago.

Our guide was particularly reverential in the cave, implying, as had the Lascaux guide, that the cave drawings probably had a spiritual purpose for Cro-Magnons. At one point, he stood silently to allow us the opportunity to absorb the knowledge that we were staring at drawings our ancestors had made thousands of years ago. What compelled these people to communicate will always remain a mystery, I suppose, but I will never forget the connection I felt to them that day in the dark cave.

Wanting to know still more about our ancestors, David and I headed to the Musee National de Prehistoire just up the road a mile or so in Les Eyzies. This lovely and unusual museum, seemingly hewn from the cliff itself, traces the history of mankind's development over the past 400,000 years. There are English information sheets in every section to help you understand the many displays.

As we studied the rocks, called flakes, that early man used for cutting and for weapons, I was struck by this comment from the information sheet:

What distinguishes man is not walking on two feet (chickens do, too) but
the refusal to accept biological limitations. Man uses tools to shape his
existence and maneuver the world's resources for his uses......tools
indicate that there was, consciously or not, a refusal to accept the place
in nature determined by biology: an evolved primitive primate transforms
materials to his needs and endows it, through cleverness, with a power
inaccessible to his own body.

We looked at as many displays as we could before hunger drove us back to the car for our ham and cheese croissant sandwiches. After finishing lunch on a pleasant park bench, we explored Les Eyzies, a one-street tourist town, in hopes of finding a memento of this special day.

We discovered a store, owned by an archaeologist, that sold remarkable, to us at least, fossilized creatures trapped in rocks millions of years ago for reasonable prices. David bought a sea-oursin (looks like a sand dollar) which is 165 million years old, and I got an orthoceras (ancestor of the cuttlefish) which is 380 million years old.

With much to think about, we let our car meander through the countryside to Le Bugue, a pleasant but not remarkable town, and then headed back to our home in the countryside.

Because only 180 visitors are allowed to visit Font de Gaume daily, it is necessary to make reservations in advance. Purchase your tickets from a tourist bureau in the area, or before you go by telephone (33-05) or by fax, (33-05) The ticket costs 7.50 euros and entitles you to a 1.50 euro discount (3.50 instead of 5 euros) at the nearby Musee National de Prehistoire.

Note that there is a steep climb to reach the cave that some visitors might find too difficult. It might be wise to check the ascent before you make reservations because no refunds are given. Also, cyclists should note that bike shoes are not allowed in the cave.

We were not allowed to take photos inside the cave, but this site displays many and provides more information.


  1. My travels have been limited to the USA & Canada so I am thrilled to read about your recent adventures. The pictures are great too !!

  2. Thanks so much, Mary Beth. It's nice to have you along for the ride!