A Blog by International Students at Leiden University

A field trip to the Dordogne region, France

Ask someone to think of early humans in Europe, and they’ll probably think of the painted caves of South-Western France, such as Lascaux. The Dordogne region of France is full of caves with remains of paintings, stone tools, animal remains, burials, and fire. Despite studying archaeology for nearly five years now, I had never been lucky enough to visit any of the sites from this region. Last week, accompanied by the Human Origins research group from the Faculty of Archaeology, I was lucky enough to visit some.

Two deer, one is a stag with large antlers, while another, with smaller antlers is kneeling before it.

The two deer from Font de Gaume are particularly iconic, and absolutely stunning in person.

This trip is part of the Human Origins research master and is accompanied by a seminar series, which gives an amazing and in-depth introduction to the area, from the geology, to different dating methods, to theories of cave art. The visit to the area gave me the opportunity to put all of the information in context, as well as visit the site I’m using in my thesis!

For people thinking about studying for the Human Origins rMA (or for anyone with an interest in seeing these amazing caves), here’s a very short log from my trip!


The walk from Abri Pataud to the MNP is very lovely, following the old road of the town.

Travel: We flew from Rotterdam-The Hague Airport to Bergerac airport (both are teeny!), and then drove by van to Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, where we were staying.

We managed a quick visit to the National Museum of Prehistory (MNP) in Les Eyzies, which gives a good cross section of what archaeologists recover from Palaeolithic sites. MNP is free to visit if you’re under 26 and from the EU, and it’s definitely worth a visit.

Another friend who studies Palaeolithic archaeology was also coincidentally in the area, so we grab a drink together before dinner.


Sites visited: Rouffignac, Les Combarelles, Font de Gaume, Abri Pataud

On Tuesday, we visited three cave art sites (Rouffignac, Les Combarelles, and Font de Gaume), which were incredible. Having never seen cave art in person before, the scale of the painting is truly spectacular. We also visited Abri Pataud, which is the site my thesis is based on. It was incredible to see my research in context, and it gave me a lot of new ideas…

In the evening we hiked to a view point downstream from Les Eyzies, which gave a beautiful overview of the valley.

The view towards Les Eyzies from the hike, showing the river and the town with the limestone cliffs behind them.


Sites visited: La Ferrassie, Le Moustier, and Cro-Magnon

The visits to Le Moustier and La Ferrassie were very inspiring, as the researchers were so enthusiastic, and are using really innovative methods at the sites.

Cro-Magnon is another famous site, which has been turned into quite an interesting museum. This is very different to the MNP and more interactive/user-friendly you could say!

Lunch was at the Laugerie Basse restaurant, which is incredible! If you’re in the area, this is a must-try. The restaurant is set into a rockshelter, and does an amazing “labourers lunch”, with 5 courses (including cheese, pudding, wine and coffee), all for under 20euro, with a delicious vegetarian option.


Sites visited: Roc de Marsal, Pech de l’Aze, and Combe Grenal

Roc de Marsal and Combe Grenal were particularly interesting, again for the use of innovative techniques and methods being used to resolve historic issues with the stratigraphy (archaeological layers) and the old excavations. We also visited the Medieval town of Domme, which was beautiful.

An amazing rum-raisin and violet ice-cream, eaten looking over the wall of Domme.


The irises of the area were also blooming, adding splashes of purple everywhere.

Friday was the last day, so I quickly returned to the MNP and Abri Pataud again to get some more photos.

I was very sad to leave, the area is honestly so beautiful and the opportunity to view these sites which I’ve read so much about felt once in a lifetime (though I’m already planning to return!). The delicious bread and pastries, cheap wine, and the friendly people all only added to my love for the region. If you’re considering visiting, I cannot recommend it enough!

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This entry was posted on April 23, 2019 by in My programme, Practical Stuff, Sophie, Travel and tagged , , , , .

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