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 40,000 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.
Hostellerie La Roseraie or Hotel Villa Domaine (D)
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 Bernifal Cave, known for its tectiform images and engravings. After lunch on your own in the nearby town of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, see the majestic sculpted frieze of horses and bison on the cliffs at Cap Blanc, and end the day with a visit to Rouffignac Cave, known as the Cave of the Hundred Mammoths.
Hostellerie La Roseraie or Hotel Villa Domaine (B, D)
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.
Hostellerie La Roseraie or Hotel Villa Domaine (B, L, D)
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, continue to
the lively university town of Toulouse.
Grand Hotel De L'Opera (B)
Drive southwest into France’s Basque region, stopping in a picturesque village 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.
Parador Santillana Del Mar (B,L,D)
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.
Parador Santillana Del Mar (B,L,D)
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.
Hotel Miró or Hotel Carlton (B,L)
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.
Hotel Miró or Hotel Carlton (B,L,D)
After breakfast, transfer to Bilbao Airport for your
Christopher Sloan is an award-winning author and art director who specializes in bringing non-visual scientific research to life for diverse audiences. Christopher worked with National Geographic magazine from 1992 to 2010 as Art Director, Senior Editor, and Director of Mission Projects. During this time, he played a key role in developing and producing the magazine’s archaeology, paleoanthropology, and paleontology stories as well as other stories about the Society’s grantees. These include many popular cover stories, such as Dawn of Humans, Neanderthals, Evolution of Mammals, Sea Monsters, Rise and Fall of the Maya, Bizarre Dinosaurs, and Secrets of Stonehenge. Christopher has also written feature articles for National Geographic, including “Found: Earliest Child,” the November 2006 cover story about the discovery of a 3.3 million-year-old baby human ancestor in Ethiopia. While on a dig in remote western China, he discovered a new genus of prehistoric crocodile—Jungaarsuchus sloanii—that now bears his name.
Christopher's enthusiasm for communicating about science to a broad audience extends to popular literature and children’s books. What Does it Mean to be Human?, co-authored with Rick Potts, is a companion book to the popular new Human Origins hall of Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Christopher has also written eight award-winning children’s books for National Geographic, including Mummies, How Dinosaurs Took Flight,and The Human Story, prepared in collaboration with Meave Leakey.
As a science communicator, Christopher enjoys lecturing on visualizing science. Currently, he serves as chairman of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s Lanzendorf Paleoart Committee and is an active member of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Evolutionary Synthesis Center workshop on improving public understanding of human origins. He is president of Science Visualization, a Washington, D.C.-area-based company that specializes in developing science content for television, exhibitions, and print.
Christopher will join the following departures:
Apr 04 - 13, 2014
Sep 12 - 21, 2014
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).