Pech Merle, Lot valley, France

A cave with some extraordinary prehistoric paintings

On our independent walking holiday in France, the Serene Lot Valley Trail, you will have time to visit the amazing prehistoric cave paintings at Peche Merle

The Pech Merle cave is situated close to the village of Cabrerets in the Lot department of France. Pech Merle is one of the few prehistoric cave painting sites in France which remain open to the general public.

The caves extend for more than a mile and the walls are covered with dramatic murals and engravings dating from 16,000 to 25,000 BC. This area once had a great river flowing through it, cutting underground channels, later used by humans for shelter. The walls of seven of the chambers at Pech Merle have life-like images of a woolly mammoth, spotted horses, bovids, reindeer, handprints, and some human figures. Footprints of children, preserved in what was once clay, have been found. Within a 10km radius of the site are ten other caves with prehistoric art of the Upper Palaeolithic period, but none of these are open to the public.

During the Ice Age the caves were probably used as places of refuge by prehistoric peoples when the area had an Arctic climate and native animal species very different from those of today. It is believed that, at some point, mudslides covered the cave entrances providing an airtight seal until the 20th century. The cave at Pech Merle has been open to the public since 1926 and we would certainly encourage you to pay this place a visit as part of our self guided walking holiday Serene Lot Valley Trail.

Spotted Horses

The horses in the Pech Merle cave in southern France, painted during the Earth's last Ice Age, have long had a special fascination for anthropologists, mainly because of their mysterious spots. The black markings, which some scientists believe were painted using a spitting technique, cover the entire flank and neck of one of the two horses, while fainter spots can be seen on the other. Scientists had assumed that the spots had a shamanistic or spiritual significance or were the work of an imaginative caveman.

New DNA evidence, however, has found that spotted horses did indeed exist in Europe in what is known as the Upper Paleolithic period. According to the findings, ancient artists were simply drawing what they saw around them.

By analysing teeth and bones of 31 horses in Siberia and Europe dating back as far as 35,000 years, researchers found that six shared a gene associated with a type of leopard spotting seen in some modern horses. Archeologists believe that horses were only domesticated about 6,000 years ago, meaning that the horses depicted in Pech Merle were most probably hunted, not bred.

High Point Holidays linear self-guided walking holiday in the Lot Valley begins in Figeac, a beautiful town with an unsoilt medieval centre and then travels downstream ending in Cahors, home of the Malbec vineyards.

Your independent walking holiday will pass through a number of historic villages such as St-Cirq-Lapopie, Marcilhac sur Cele, centred on its ancient abbey, and Vers, squeezed between huge cliffs and the river Lot. At the village of Cabrerets you'll have the opportunity to visit the famous caves of Pech Merle with important pre-historic cave paintings. You'll finish your walking tour at Cahors, famous for its wines and its 14th century bridge allowing access to the town.

High Point Holidays' Serene Lot Valley Trail is available from mid April to mid October.

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