Nouvelle Aquitaine Section
Les Eyzies de Tayac Sireuil - Vezere Valley
Les Eyzies de Tayac Sireuil, the French capital of Prehistory
Les Eyzies de Tayac Sireuil is located in the Vézère Valley, at the confluence of the Vézère and Beune rivers.
This area that has been home to generations of men since the Paleolithic period.
Our distant ancestors indeed took refuge in the shelters and galleries the river hollowed over the millennia, and left their mark on the walls of their caves.
The commune of Tayac has one of the highest concentration of prehistoric sites in the valley.
It merged with the municipality of Les Eyzies in 1905 and in 1973 Les Eyzies de Tayac merged with Sireuil.
The latter village became known after the discovery of a Neolithic statue - Venus of Sireuil.
However, the most significant archaeological discovery of all times took place in Les Eyzies!
This is indeed where the natural rock shelter containing the remains of Cro-Magnon Men and the traces of their every day life and religious rites were discovered in the late 19th century.
Cro Magnon culture
This pre-historic epoch is divided into periods named after a series of caves and their specific contents and types of decoration.
Cro-Magnon men lived during the Magdalenian, a period named after the nearby Madeleine rock shelter.
They settled down in the many natural shelters, along the cliff that border the Vézère Valley.
These natural shelters were indeed ideal for humans, as they provided protection from the harsh climatic conditions.
The fertility of the alluvial valley, the abundance of fish in the rivers (whose levels were 3m higher than today) and the abundance of cold climate animals - reindeer, mammoths and bison - led Cro-Magnon culture to thrive in the south-west of France.
However, as weather conditions improved, farming developed.
Our distant ancestors indeed left their rock shelter for the valley villages, near their crops and cattle.
In time of danger their descendants moved back to safety into the cliffs' shelters (3th century Barbarian invasions, 9th century Norman incursions, Hundred Years War and Wars of Religion).
They transformed the natural shelters into villages, with proper dwellings, shops, barns for the animals and the grain.
They even built an entire fortress with a village and its small cathedral in La Roque-St-Christophe.
Folks could move quickly into these troglodyte shelters and sustain months of siege, as even the cattle was lifted up with thick ropes.
The galleries served as extended living quarters and food storage.
Accessible only by removable rope-ladders, they were easy to defend; most were destroyed during the Hundred Years War and the Wars of Religion.
Fortress of Tayac
You will discover these distant ancestors in the National Museum of Prehistory in Les Eyzies de Tayac Sireuil.
The archaeologist Denis Peyrony founded the museum in 1918 in the old castle of the lords of Tayac.
Baron Jean Guy de Beynac built the current fortress in the 16th century.
The impressive building commanded the confluence of the Vézère and Beune Rivers and their valleys.
It was built straight into the cliff, following and adjusting to the irregularities of the rock.
The fortress of Tayac remained in the family of the Barons of Beynac until the 18th century, then went to the La Borie de Campagne Family.
However, it was seized and declared national property in 1798 (French Revolution.)
An inhabitant of Tayac bought the castle in 1804 in order to turn it into a stone quarry.
Fortunately, the income generated was so low that he abandoned the project!
The Esclafer family, distant relatives of the Barons of Beynac, acquired the old fortress in 1846.
The French Historical Monuments bought Tayac in 1913 in order to found a museum of prehistory.
Denis Peyrony was the first curator.
National Museum of Prehistory of Les Eyzies de Tayac Sireuil
The man-size statue of Neanderthal known as L'Homme Primitif is the iconic image of the museum and the village!
This sculpture by Paul Dardé has been guarding the museum's entrance since its inauguration.
The museum exhibits the thousands of artifacts discovered in the Vézère Valley.
Two additional buildings were erected in 1966-67 in order to house the ever growing collections.
The old Château de Tayac was listed Historical Monument on December 26, 1968.
The museum was enlarged once more in 2004.
The architect Jean-Pierre Buffi designed the contemporary buildings.
Those provide over 3,600 m² of additional space, including 14,850 m² of exhibition galleries.
The years indeed don't pass by without new artifacts being discovered and the collections keep expanding.
It seems that much more has yet to be discovered in the superb Vézère Valley.
Prehistoric sites around Les Eyzies de Tayac Sireuil
The prehistoric sites are located on both sides of Les Eyzies de Tayac Sireuil.
Sites along the Vézère and the D47 which leads to Périgueux
Sites along the Beune Valley and the D47 to Sarlat and the D48
Rocher de la Peine: Follow the main road D47 - Avenue de la Préhistoire towards the town centre and Sarlat until the roundabout where the road meets the D706 - Avenue du Cinglé.
La Peine Rock is a Magdalenian Era deposit discovered under the highly eroded rock overhanging the road.
Les Combarelles Cave is a natural shelter located along the D47, at the confluence of the Beune and Petite Beune rivers.
The cave's remarkable murals, tools and weapons are a splendid illustration of the Magdalenian cave art (14000BP to 9500BP).
The high relief carvings on the walls of Cap Blanc Shelter (along the D48) were discovered in 1909.
The skilled artists adapted their carvings to the irregularities of the rock in order to create impressive frieze depicting various animals.
The cave contained also a human burial ground.
Tip: Les Eyzies de Tayac Sireuil is obviously a very popular destination during summer.
It can therefore be over-crowded, especially as the main and only road traverses the town!
Department of Dordogne
Coordinates: Lat 44.937209 - Long 1.011541