Caves & Castles

Small Group

Guided Archaeology Tours

Vezere Valley

Dordogne, France


Steve & Judie Burman												              Les Bories, 24290 Valojoulx France                                      Tel: 0033 (0) 553 503121


Caves & Castles

Glossary of Terms

Below you will find some of the terms we use on our website and that you might encounter during your Guided Archaeology Tour or stay in this area.  If we have used any word that you are not familiar with or if anything is unclear, please don’t hesitate to contact us for an explanation.







Abri or Abri-Sous-Roche

A natural hollowing out of the rock where it is softer or more porous. In the Vezere Valley this is caused by the process of freezing/thawing (gellifaction). Abris are the main living sites.

Acheulean

St Acheul is a suburb of Amiens in northern France. It gave its name to a period and culture during the Palaeolithic.  This was defined by Gabriel Mortillet in 1872 and lasts in France between approx. 500,000 and 125,000 years ago.  The typical tools are handaxes.

Aurignacian

(from the cave of Aurignac in the Pyrenees)  The first fully human culture. It starts at the beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic (approximately 40,000 years ago) and lasts until about 29,000 years ago. It has the earliest wall art. Its typical tools are blades and scrapers. The Aurignacians are the first to make beads for personal decoration.

Aurochs

A huge type of wild cow.  Lascaux has the most spectacular cave art representation of this magnificent beast which became extinct in the early 17th century AD.

Carbon 14

A method of dating using the radioactivity of the carbon isotope 14 present in all organic materials - wood, bone, shells, etc. It revolutionised prehistory being able to date materials 40-50,000 years old. Dates obtained by this method are often given B.P. (before present) which means 1950 (the date of the method’s discovery). Latest techniques only need milligrammes of sample and can date wall paintings where charcoal was used.

Chattel Perronian

A culture and period at the beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic. Partly contemporary with the Aurignacian, it may belong to the Neanderthals.

Cro-Magnon

An abri at Les Eyzies where in 1868 some ancient skeletons were found. They gave their name to the fully modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens - us!

Epi-Gravettian

A culture contemporary with the Solutrean approx-imately 21-17,000 years ago. It evolved from the Gravettian culture between the river Rhone and Siberia and is known for its abstract or highly stylised art. It gives way to the Magdalenian culture.

Grotte

A cave.  The people of the Ice Ages (so called Cave Men) did not normally live in the caves, but at the mouths. The interiors were more usually probably used for rituals (including art).

Gravettian

A culture and a period of the Upper Palaeolithic between the Aurignacian and the Solutrean. It is a European culture and thus this term has taken over from ‘Perigordian’ which was too regional. Superb flint artefacts using retouched blades - burins, scrapers and extremely sharp points for spears. Their cave art includes ‘negative’ hands, made by spraying pigment over an outstretched hand.

Homo Sapiens Sapiens

Modern humans, who evolved in Africa and spread out from there to the rest of the world about 80,000 years ago.

Les Eyzies

Known as the Capital of Prehistory, the site where modern humans (us!) were first discovered is here and the National Museum of Prehistory

Magdelenian

18-19,000 BC named from the Abri de La Madeleine. The last period and culture of the Upper Palaeolithic present across all Europe. 90% Palaeolithic art is from this period.

Mammoth

Ancestor of modern elephant 2.80 - 3.50 metres high. Hunted for food and ivory by Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon.

Megaceros

An extinct giant deer.  Its antlers could be 3 metres wide.

Monochrome

Cave art in a single colour, for example, red or black. See also polychrome.

Mousterian

Named after the village of Le Moustier. A period and culture of the Middle Palaeolithic between 125,000 and 35,000 years ago.  It is closely associated with the Neanderthal people, with a range of different tools and deliberate burial rituals.

Neanderthal

A species of  humans, first identified in mid 19th century. They inhabited an area between the Middle East (and possibly Central Asia) and Western Europe. They first appear approximately 150,000 years ago and disappear 30-25,000 years ago. From 40,000 years ago they were contemporaries of the Cro-Magnon people.

Palaeolithic

A term created by John Lubbook in 1865 which means the Old Stone Age when humans and their ancestors lived as hunter gatherers. It extends between approx. 7 million years ago and 9 thousand years ago (the end of the Ice Age).  It is subdivided into the Archaic, Lower, Middle and Upper periods.

Petroglyph

Image engraved on rock, sometimes coloured.  This term is not often used in France, but is much more common in the USA and Australia.

Polychrome

Multi-coloured painting using a mixture of, for example, red, black and yellow to produce browns and purples.

Sarlat

Sarlat medieval town is a real gem - it has a Wednesday morning market and, unusually, an all day market on Saturday. The medieval buildings and cobbled streets is a delight to explore.

Silex

A hard rock formed from silica. It occurs often in chalk or other limestone.  It was the favourite material of prehistoric people in Europe for making their tools.  The flint from Bergerac and was especially prized and was carried long distances and traded as far away as the Pyrenees.

Solutrean

A period and culture approx. 22-28,000 years ago. Only found in France, Spain and Portugal. Best known for their ‘laurel leaf’ shaped spear heads, these people also invented the propulseur and the stitching needle, which allowed well-fitting clothes to be made.

Tectiform

A roof-shaped sign which appears in cave art around Les Eyzies