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The only thing we know about Prehistory is what has been kind enough to find its way back to the surface of the earth, either accidentally or during calculated archeological exploration. We stick names and labels on the bones, depending on the place, the finder and the mood of the day. And thus for 150 years we have been steadily moving one step forwards and one step backwards towards our origins. Every so often a heated debate starts off: “this one’s an ape, that one’s a man, this one’s a brute, that one’s a scholar… “ 20 years ago, to cool down the debate and look at things in a simple manner, a woman, anxious to protect evidence of ways of life in bygone times (it was she who saved from decay the Grotte du Chien nestled in the Puy-de-Dôme where there are the last traces of the eruptions of the volcano which has been dormant for 12,000 years) and an anthropologist - an expert on fossilized man in the Périgord - whose fingertips have explored a great number of these extremely rare specimens, had the idea of repopulating a little valley down amongst the rocks, unchanged – plunged in a reassuring chiaroscuro, misty and mysterious. And that is how Préhisto Parc came into being - and this year they have been celebrating its twentieth anniversary in the presence of its designers: Madame Huguette Girard and Professor Heim, paleoanthropologist at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle. The time was ripe for recalling its beginnings and its objectives: to pass on information and knowledge and move forward as science discloses new data.

20 years ago things were easy since Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon skeletons had been found not far from the park. The challenge was to get them to reappear in their natural surroundings. Thanks to morphological and behavioral knowledge concerning prehistoric man, Mademoiselle Monique Luyton, an artist and an expert on reconstruction, was assigned to the task of casting moulds to recreate bodies for the skeletons and bring life back to the little valley – a life in harmony with nature, a life of food gathering, hunting and fishing and fraternizing round the fire: a life that more than one of us yearn for in this day and age of so-called progress.

There were the museums and the painted caves but Préhisto Parc had something different to offer: a different view of how life went on in bygone days. In the tranquillity of the chosen spot, a natural enclosure surrounded by rocks, you follow a circuit and travel back to your origins, dropping in on your ancestors, so to speak! Here the organizers weren’t concerned with fractioning and labelling with strange-sounding names - Erectus, Neanderthal, Homo sapiens, Cro-Magnon – they weren’t obsessed with the need to establish kinship… “Are they close cousins, distant relatives…?” In this park Professor Heim and Madame Girard present humankind as one big family, one single human race constantly adjusting to new conditions - a seemingly endless continuum which began we know not when. We may soon discover how valueless those labels are…

On its 20th anniversary Préhisto Parc received a stream of humans happy to stroll along its shady paths, not clothed in bearskins but in blazers, cassocks, jeans or evening dresses. One single human race with costumes forever changing… but still enjoying being in this secluded and friendly spot – today just as before.

Sophie Cattoire

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