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Earth's Children Fans - Ayla, Jean Auel and YOU!
Earth's Children Fans - Ayla, Jean Auel and YOU!

Cave Tour May 31 - June 14, 2004

The Gastronomy and Prehistoric Cave Art of France, is sponsored for the 5th year by The Ringling School of Art and Design, Sarasota, Florida. The tour is led by Clayton Eshleman, a Professor Emeritas at Eastern Michigan University and a National Book Award winner who has researched Ice Age Cave Art for the past 30 years. His book, Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination & the Construction of the Underworld, has just been published by Wesleyan University Press. (See below for more details on the book!)

Tour leaders also include Caryl Eshleman, French coordinator Mathilde Sitbon, and, as guest lecturer, the poet Robert Creeley. Travelers meet in Paris and spend several days there, visiting the National Museum of Prehistory and enjoying group dinners at Michelin-starred restaurants. On a private motor coach the group leaves for the Dordogne (7 hours southwest of Paris) on the 3rd, and over the next 10 days stay in lovely rural inns in Les Eyzies, Cahors, and on a private lake south of Limoges.

While in the Dordogne, there are visits to six decorated (24,000 to 10,000 years ago) Ice Age caves, which Eshleman lectures on before the visits. Such caves are in effect the workshops where our direct ancestors made the truly incredible move from no image of the world to images, many of which are realistic, magical, and not "primitive" at all.

Additional details from Clayton Eshleman: The regional prehistory museum in Les Eyzies has been under renovation and expansion for a decade and should be open this spring. It will be three times the size of the old museum and include a lot of new material. In Cahors, where we spend two nights at the Michelin-listed Hotel Terminus, guests who are wine lovers will have a chance to sample the largest Cahors selection in the world. Also, while we are in Cahors (mainly to visit the nearby caves of Pech-Merle and Cougnac) we will visit the Clos La Coutale Cahors winery for a guided tour and tasting. After leaving Cahors (Cahors is a city as well as a wine!) we will drive to La Roche L'Abeille, the Michelin-starred inn on a private lake south of Limoges. This is a beautiful place, and perfect for a wrap-up discussion on what we have seen. I give my last lecture there, on "cave art theory," bringing the group up to date on what others have written about cave images throughout the 20th century.

The group also visits local markets, a medieval nut oil mill, charming villages along the Dordogne River, and samples regional cuisine. The group returns to Paris on June 13, with departure on the 14th. The tour is a unique combination of an exploration of the origin of image making, and a sensual introduction to one of France's most beautiful regions. For further information, contact Nancee Clark, Director of Ringling School’s Continuing Studies and Special Programs, at 941/955-8866, email cpe@ringling.EDU, or see the brochure. (Adobe pdf file:


Juniper Fuse

Here's the write-up on Clayton's wonderful book. It's a marvelous exploration that I'm sure you'll enjoy.

Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination & the Construction of the Underworld by Clayton Eshleman (Wesleyan University Press, 2003) is not only the first book on the origin of image-making (and the roots of poetry) by a poet, but also the first book on the deep past to draw upon depth psychology, in particular the work of C.S. Jung, James Hillman, and Wolfgang Giegerich. Named after the hand lamp wicks used to light cave walls, the book, in Ronald Gottesman's words, is "a fabulous three-dimensional tapestry of scholarship. Original and intense, it poses serious questions about human nature and its relation to the animal and natural worlds."

Juniper Fuse is also a profound examination, in poetry and prose, of the nature of poetic imagination and personal myth-making. Besides depth psychologists, Eshleman has also drawn upon the work of Sandor Ferenczi, Geza Roheim, Mikhail Bakhtin, Weston LaBarre, Charles Olson, N.O. Brown, Kenneth Grant, and Hans Peter Duerr which he brings to bear upon such archeologists as Andre Leroi-Gourhan, the Abbe Breuil, Alexander Marshack, S. Giedion, Jean Clottes, Paul Bahn, and Margaret Conkey. Because cave imagery is an inseparable mix of psychic constructs and perceptive observations, Eshleman has based his writing on poetic imagination as well as thorough fieldwork and research. Sometimes a section is all poetry, sometimes all prose--at other times it is a shifting combination like a Calder mobile, with poetry turning into prose, prose turning into poetry.

The Pulitzer Prize winning poet Gary Snyder has written: "Archeologists and artists have written on southwestern European cave art, but none have given us a book like this. Clayton Eshleman has explored and inspected almost all ot the great cave art of southwestern Europe including many caves that are not open to the public and require special permission. Now with visionary imagination, informed poetic speculation, deep insight, breath-taking leaps of mind, Eshleman draws out the underground of myth, psychology, prehistory, and the first turn of the human mind toward the modern. Juniper Fuse opens us up to our ancient selves: we might be weirder (and also better) than we thought."

Clayton wrote me this recently: "On Jan 5 I fly to Paris, to rent a car and drive south 7 hours to the Gorge d'Ardeche to visit the Chauvet Cave, discovered in 1994, and considered to be as important, if not more, than Lascaux. It has the oldest radiocarbon dated paintings in the world, some as old as 32,400 and many are beautifully done, often of lions, mammoths, and black hairy rhinos, with shading and perspective. To my knowledge, I am the first non-archeologist allowed to visit Chauvet, which will never be open to the public."

Perhaps this will give us a chance at even more of a glimpse into the cave Wolf discovered at the Zelandonii summer meeting in The Shelters of Stone! And more importantly, into the 'real' world that existed so very long ago when the cave walls were made to come alive.

Here's the follow-up: "The trip to Chauvet was something. One has to climb a mountain to get to the entrance of the cave, about a 40 minute rapid hike (the guides move like jackrabbits) up a crude footpath. Chauvet is massively protected, not only with a code to be punched in, but a plate that records the fingerprints of one of the guide's hands. The two of us once inside were given helmets, suits, and rubber shoes. We descended a small vertical ladder 40 feet into blackness.

The cave has now been rigged with metal walkways to protect the floor (which has many bear bones and skulls, one of which is completely covered with a calcite cast, with a stalagmite "growing" out the dome). There are 73 lions, by far the most anywhere, and some are done with a verve and mastery that boggle the imagination. They are as beautifully drawn as anything in Picasso, and are dated between 30,000 and 32,000 years ago. There is also a venus figure, with one leg and a large black vulva placed next to a hybrid male, with a bison head. The venus makes use of the hybrid's leg as her second leg. So here we have undoubtedly the first Minotaur!

If you want to offer your readers any more information on Chauvet, you can point them to: Chauvet Cave: The Art of Earliest Times, University of Utah Press, 2003. It has gorgeous and quite accurate photos. the cave will never be open to the public, but I was told by Jean Marie Chauvet (who co-discovered the cave and was one of our guides) that they plan to take in around 400 people this year, all on the basis of a private appointment."

For more information about Clayton Eshleman, his work, and the 2004 Cave Tour, be sure and take a trip through his website: or the entry about him and his work at The Academy of American Poets.

Juniper Fuse by Clayton Eshelman - French Cave Art Explored
Chauvet Cave: The Art of Earliest Times

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