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Visit Musee National de Prehistoire

The Musée National de Prehistoire, 'the National Prehistory Museum' is a valuable source of information relating to the prehistory period and houses some exceptional discoveries including some from nearby caves and shelters.

The museum is located in Les Eyzies, often called the capital of prehistory as is sits at the heart of the prehistoric sites of the Vezere Valley. The Vezere Valley is so rich in prehistoric caves and shelters that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Explore the National Museum of Prehistory

Tucked in underneath the large overhanging cliff above the village of Les Eyzies de Tayac is a chateau that was built for Jean Guy de Beynac in the 16th century. The castle had a chequered history and was eventually sold as a stone quarry! By the time it was bought  in 1913 it had been badly damaged but it was restored and opened in 1920 as the first Musée de la Péhistoire.

skeleton of young Neanderthal

A new museum building was built below the chateau and opened in 2004. This contemporary structure is built on three levels. On the ground floor is the entrance and on the wall a timeline showing the evolution of modern man.

The first and second floors are spacious galleries full of exhibits. The lower gallery houses a collection dedicated to the cultures and environments of prehistoric man. Highlights include the skeleton of a newborn Neanderthal baby from 40000 years ago.This was found in a shelter at nearby Le-Moustier and is one of the most complete Neanderthal skeletons in Europe.

The Neanderthals were the first to bury their dead in Europe, an indication of symbolic thinking and social structuring.

There is also a large polished axe made of Jadeite from the Alps and its size indicates wealth and status and an increasing hierarchy in these early societies.

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On the upper gallery the exhibits are dedicated to art and rites. There is the skeleton of a young Neanderthal found at the nearby La Madeleine shelter. The skeleton dates back 10000 years and was buried with lots of ornaments. These ornaments are made of pierced shells and teeth and were probably sewn on to clothing.

A reconstructed parure shows how beautiful these items of clothing would have been. Again it is thought that these ornaments are an indication of social status and the more ornamentation the higher the social status of the individual.

There are many sculptures on display including a small reindeer antler beautifully decorated with an engraved bison licking its back found at La Madeleine and carved aurochs that were carved at the Fourneau du Diable at Bourdeilles on the walls of a rock shelter that collapsed 20000 years ago.

Another local exhibit is part of the pebble floor from the Magdalenian period (15000BC) that was discovered at the cabins of Le Breuil near Neuvic. The floor is thought to have been laid with river pebbles and sand to insulate the hunters from the frozen floor in the winter.

Parure Paleolithic

Above the upper gallery there is access to the outdoor terrace with its large rock shelter which was used in Magdalenian times and also became a Medieval settlement. Later the chateau was built in the 16th century.

Also on the terrace is the iconic statue of primitive man which was sculpted by Paul Dard' in 1931. From up on the terrace you get great views over the Vezere Valley and the village of Les Eyzies.

The Musee National de Prehistoire is open all year round except for 25 December and 1 January. It is also closed every Tuesday exceptt for July and August. Opening Hours are 9.30 to 12.30 and 14.00 to 17.30 in winter and 09.30 to 18.00 the rest of the year (18.30 in July and August).

The price is 6 euros for adults and free to under 18s. The museum is free to everyone the first Sunday of the month.

Attractions nearby

Les Eyzies is an attractive village and has a few shops and restaurants to explore and an attractive riverside walk. Along from the Prehistory Museum walk along the Avenue de la Prehistoire where you can visit the Abri Pataud and the Abri Cro Magnon.

Also close to the Prehistory Museum in the other direction is the Pole International de la Prehistoire which is free to visit and contains more information about  prehistoric times.

A short distance from Les Eyzies are the Grotte du Grand Roc with its impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations and next to it the prehistoric shelters of Laugerie Haut and Basse.

The Grotte de Font de Gaume, one of the few caves containing prehistoric paintings which is still open to the public is nearby and not to be missed.

A little further away the Lascaux caves may be a copy but it is so authentic and the paintings so spectacular that it should definitely be visited.

See also: 

Photos of Musee National de Prehistoire

Click any picture to start the gallery

  • art-de-la-madeleine
  • chateau
  • enfant-de-la-madeleine
  • jewellry
  • le-moustier-skeleton
  • les-eyzies
  • musee-national
  • parure-paleolithique
  • polished-axe
  • rhinoceros
  • sculpture-aurochs
  • shelters
  • statue

Map of Musee National de Prehistoire and places to visit

 
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Musee National de Prehistoire places to visit

Les Eyzies caves

Les Eyzies caves

Overview of the caves near to Les Eyzies.

Les Eyzies caves guide
The International Centre of Prehistory

The International Centre of Prehistory

The International Centre of Prehistory has exhibitions about prehistoric man.

The International Centre of Prehistory guide
Grotte du Grand Roc

Grotte du Grand Roc

A wonderful natural cave full of a rare form of tiny twisting stalactites.

Grotte du Grand Roc guide
Font de Gaume

Font de Gaume

One of the rare caves containing prehistoric paintings still open to the public.

Font de Gaume guide
The Abri Cro Magnon

The Abri Cro Magnon

The Abri Cro-Magnon is a prehistoric shelter and visitor centre and is the place where the first Cro-Magnons were discovered.

The Abri Cro Magnon guide
Chateau de Commarque

Chateau de Commarque

The Chateau de Commarque is a partially renovated 12th century castle.

Chateau de Commarque guide
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