Les Eyzies de Taynac is a pretty town in the commune of Dordogne in southwestern France, that at first glance, appears to be crushed under the cliff.
The town is littered with numerous grottos, caves and troglodyte dwellings whose history dates back to more than 28,000 years. I
t was here, in 1868, during the construction of a railroad, a rock dwelling was discovered that contained the skeletal remains of the first early Homo sapiens of the European Upper Paleolithic era – the Cro-Magnons.
The prehistoric caves around Les Eyzies contain some of the most significant archaeological finds of the Upper Paleolithic (from about 40,000 to 10,000 years ago) and Middle Paleolithic (200,000 to 40,000 years ago) periods, that include, apart from skeletons, tools, pendants and jewelry and extensive wall drawings. The area is visited by thousands of tourist every year.
Les Eyzies was at one time a small hamlet tied to the Lordship of Tayac.
During the 8th and 9th centuries it probably had quite a large population, as shown by the numerous troglodytic habitations and the presence of groups of buildings fortified against the Viking raiders.
The cliffs are riddled with elevated look-out posts know as cluzeaux aeriens, artificial chambers cut out of the limestone cliffs so high one wonders how anyone ever got up there.
There are scores of caves and grottos to visit in Les Eyzies, including numerous medieval fortresses built into the rocks, a fortified church and many museums. Les Eyzies contains some 150 prehistoric sites dating from the Paleolithic and about 25 decorated caves.
The Grotte de Font-de-Gaume, just outside of Les Eyzies, has over 200 paintings and engravings of bison, horses, mammoths, and reindeer, as well as a few stylized human figures.
The multi-colored paintings date from the Magdelenian era, about 17,000 years ago.
The Abri de Laugerie Basse is another rock shelter that was occupied over 17,000 years ago.
It is known for the large number of tools and artifacts that were discovered in place, including a sculpture of a horse and another of a female figure.
Then, there is Abri de Cro-Magnon itself where the famous discovery of the Cro-Magnons were made.
The shelter of the Cro-Magnon and several other sites, however, have been closed to the public because of preservation concern.
“Blue Holes,” as they are often called due to the small circle of water they form in the inland soil (and their similarities to the more well-known offshore variety), sometimes form the entrance to a vast network of underground caverns.
The caverns are completely submerged and contain zero or near-zero percent oxygen – and that’s just the first of their remarkable traits. Scientists looking to gain an understanding of what life might be like on planets other than Earth have very few resources to turn to.
The planet they live on happens to be nearly 100% Earth, and the alternate environments they have some access to (the moon, Mars) happen to, thus far, have zero life forms.
So they turn to some of Earth’s least hospitable environments to see what’s going on there. Research takes them from the cracked desert floor of the Mojave to the North Pole and the sub-freezing water beneath it – anyplace, really, where nothing might turn into something.
But the caves in the Bahamas have something those other places don’t: diversity.
Zero light and an underwater environment have created some interesting life forms in other places, but the unique combination of reduced gravitational effects and a saltwater-rich environment largely shielded from external forces have created a fascinating incubator for the growth of microorganisms.
And perhaps more importantly, a lack of others – the bacteria that usually cause trouble for terrestrial environments have a hard time growing here, and if they do, it’s in a unique way that results in a high volume of deadly hydrogen sulfide.
A fairly recently discovered ruined city lying in the protective embrace of the Mexican jungles, Palenque is one of the most breathtaking of all Mayan ruins. Known for its intricate carvings and as the resting place of Pakal the Great, the city was once a thriving metropolis between 500 and 700 AD and was home to somewhere around 6,000 people at its height.
The site was only uncovered in the 1950s, and since then it’s been opened to tourists. Now, visitors can get a look for themselves at the massive stone structures, decorated with beautiful carvings, that were once the stomping grounds for one of the Maya’s greatest kings.
So intricate – and so cryptic – are the carvings that some people look at them as proof that the builders had help from a rather questionable source – extraterrestrials.
Carvings depicting bizarre symbols have alternately been interpreted as astrological or religious symbols, or symbolism implying the use of a space ship by the deceased on his way to the next world.
Now a World Heritage Site, only a portion of Palenque’s estimated 1,500 structures have been excavated. Among those that have been thoroughly explored include Pakal the Great’s tomb, and the Temple of the Red Queen.
The latter yielded the knowledge that the Maya painted the bodies of their deceased nobility a bright red – the same red that would have been used to paint many of the buildings. For the Maya, red was the color of blood and the color of life.
Palenque was abandoned by 1000, left to be enveloped by the jungle and preserved by the same wilds that were once cut back from it. There’s plenty of theories about why people left the city, from famine caused by drought to a shift in political power.
The last date that we know the city was occupied was November 17, 799 – the date carved on a vase.
The Great Basin Bristlecone Pines, or Pinus longaeva, is a long-living species of tree found in the higher mountains of the southwest United States. Bristlecone pines grow in isolated groves in the arid mountain regions of six western states of America, but the oldest are found in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains of California.
These trees have a remarkable ability to survive in extremely harsh and challenging environment. In fact, they are believed to be the some of oldest living organisms in the world, with lifespans in excess of 5,000 years.
Bristlecone pines grow just below the tree line, between 5,000 and 10,000 feet of elevation. At these great heights, the wind blows almost constantly and the temperatures can dip to well below zero.
The soil is dry receiving less than a foot of rainfall a year. Because of these extreme conditions, the trees grow very slowly, and in some years don’t even add a ring of growth. Even the tree’s needles, which grow in bunches of five, can remain green for forty years.