Trace the footsteps of early humans as we explore the cradles of prehistoric civilization in southwest France and on Spain’s northern coast. On an expedition designed with the help of paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson, examine remarkably sophisticated carvings and cave paintings that illustrate everyday life some 25,000 years ago. Travel from the Dordogne to Basque Country, discovering the medieval towns that dot these long-inhabited landscapes.
Depart on an overnight flight to Bordeaux. Journey
to the beautiful Dordogne region—still commonly
known by its pre-revolutionary name, Périgord.
Here, rivers have carved up the limestone landscape, leaving cliffs and caves where humans
have built their homes for tens of thousands of
years. Settle into the village of Montignac, perched
on the banks of the Vézère River, and gather this
evening for a welcome reception and dinner.
Begin the day at the National Museum of
Prehistory with an introduction to Paleolithic art
by one of the world’s leading experts, Christine
Desdemaines-Hugon, author of Stepping Stones: A Journey through the Ice Age Caves of the Dordogne. Then join Christine for a visit to Font-de-Gaume, home to more than 200 prehistoric polychrome paintings, or to Bernifal Cave, known for its tectiform images and engravings. After lunch on your own in the nearby town of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, visit Les Combarelles cave and then see the majestic sculpted frieze of horses and bison on the cliffs at Cap Blanc.
Meet prehistory expert Denis Tauxe for a tour of
Lascaux II, a painstaking recreation of the two
primary chambers of the original Lascaux cave,
whose famous paintings have been off-limits
to visitors since 1963 to prevent deterioration.
Travel to picturesque Sarlat, whose original half-timbered and golden-stone buildings and narrow cobbled streets make it one of the best-preserved medieval towns in France. After time to explore on your own, gather for a unique “prehistoric” lunch, made with ingredients used by the Neanderthals. In the afternoon, join archaeologist Isabelle Castanet for a visit to Castel-Merle, a complex of prehistoric stone shelters more than 300 feet long, excavated and preserved by several generations of the Castanet family.
This morning, venture into the spectacular natural
galleries of Pech Merle, an enormous cave system
filled with prehistoric art and artifacts dating back
25,000 years. See rare representations of human
figures, engraved or spotted animals, and a mammoth drawn using the natural contours of the
rock. The cave floor displays children’s footprints
preserved in the ancient clay more than 12,000
years ago. Following lunch on your own, stop for
a wine tasting at a local chateau, then continue to
the lively university town of Toulouse.
Drive southwest into France’s Basque region, stopping in the picturesque village of Saint-Jean-
Pied-de-Port for lunch in a traditional Basque
restaurant. In the afternoon, enter the Isturitz and
Oxocelhaya caves with local prehistory specialist
Aude Labarge and meet with the archaeological
site director, Christian Normand. Used by human
beings for more than 80,000 years, these super-imposed caves have yielded tens of thousands of
artifacts, including flutes, sculpted reindeer horns,
and whale bone tools. Cross into Spain this afternoon and trace the Bay of Biscay to the Cantabria region. Check into our charming hotel, a manor house situated in the heart of the medieval village of Santillana del Mar.
Come face-to-face with some of the oldest artistic
representations in human history on a visit to
the caves at Puente Viesgo, part of the Paleolithic
caves of northern Spain World Heritage site.
Recently identified as the oldest cave artwork in
the world, the paintings in El Castillo cave date
back at least 40,800 years. Explore the nearby Las
Monedas cave—the longest in Puente Viesgo—
and later, delve deeper into the prehistory of the
region on a visit to the Altamira Museum.
Continue our exploration of Cantabria’s World
Heritage–listed caves at Hornos de la Peña. Here,
large-scale naturalistic engravings depict horses,
bison, aurochs, goats, and other animals, as well
as an unusual anthropomorphic figure with a
human-like arm and a tail. After lunch at a local
restaurant, transfer to Bilbao, the largest city in
Spain’s autonomous Basque Country. Explore
the city on your own this afternoon, and if you
wish, stop in at the world-famous Guggenheim
Museum located just a short walk from our hotel.
Today we are joined by renowned archaeologist
Dr. Ana Cristina Pinto-Llona, an expert on the
origins of modern humans. Ana is a two-time
National Geographic grant recipient for her work
in the Asturias region of northern Spain, and also
spent several years excavating at the Atapuerca
archaeological site. Visit Atapuerca, where the
oldest known hominin fossil remains in Europe have been unearthed. Then continue to Burgos
to visit the Museum of Human Evolution, where
many of the Atapuerca finds are displayed. Return
to Bilbao and celebrate your prehistoric adventure
at a festive farewell dinner
After breakfast, transfer to Bilbao Airport for your
National Geographic grantee Ana Pinto is a Spanish archaeologist working in the field of human evolution. She earned her masters and doctoral degrees in the Human Origins group at London's Natural History Museum, then worked as a post-doctoral fellow with Donald Johanson at Arizona State University's Institute of Human Origins. Her fields of interest include fossilization processes, ancient environments, early human diets, and the origins of modern human behavior as expressed in Europe over the last 40,000 years. Ana has conducted much of her research in caves and rock shelters requiring vertical rope techniques in Spain, Tanzania, and Kenya. She has also participated in excavation and field research projects in England, South Africa, and Armenia. In 2001 Ana discovered the Sopeña rockshelter, which contains a long archaeological stratigraphy bearing evidence to the last millenia of Neanderthal life and the immediate substitution by Cro-magnon. Ana was part of the Atapuerca team during the years of major discoveries at this World Heritage-listed archaeological site, and received the prestigous Prince of Asturias Prize in 1997 awarded to the Atapuerca Team. She was the 2005 Humanities Awardee of the Wings World Quest Foundation and named Spanish Distinguished Researcher in 2006 by the Spanish Government.
Ana will join the following departure:
Oct 18 - 27, 2013
Price is per person, double occupancy. For a single room, add $1,095. Airfare is not included in the expedition cost. Economy airfare from New York to Bordeaux and return from Bilbao is from $1,100 (subject to change).