Did you ever wonder why I placed 🦕 a dinosaur in the MBFF logo ?
It wasn’t simply because kids tend to love 🦖🦕 dinosaurs; it was also because near the Pays du Mont-Blanc, just across the border in 🇨🇭 Emosson, you’ll find some 🦕 dinosaur prints, vestiges of 💦 a great ocean that once covered our 🗻 mountains . . .
But where else can you find 🦕 dinosaurs prints and other remnants of prehistory near the Pays du Mont-Blanc?
With the new 🦖 Jurassic World film having just been released, I thought this the appropriate moment to share this article with you, so that you can explore some local 🦕 dinosaur prints to your little paleontologists . . .
What is PREHISTORY ?
I’ve always thought it a strange term, prehistory. I mean, history is history, right ?
Well, not according to historians, who coined the term prehistory to mark the ” the period of time before written records “. So, the difference between history and prehistory is the existence of written records. For research into prehistory, we depend on archaeological digs and discoveries, which have revealed to us dinosaur bones, fossils and cave paintings.
Human prehistory is divided into three successive periods:
- the Stone Age;
- the Bronze Age;
- and the Iron Age;
Here are a few more terms:
dinosaur – in 1841, the English paleontologist Sir Richard Owen coined the term dinosaur, using it to refer to the ” distinct tribe or sub-order of Saurian Reptiles “, that were starting to be recognised in England and around the world, after the discovery of dinosaur bones. The term is derived from the Ancient Greek words deinos – ” terrible or fearfully great “, and sauros – “ lizard or reptile ” (Wikipedia);
paleontology – the branch of science concerned with fossil animals and plants / from the Greek for ancient – (paleo), being (onto), and study (logy);
paleontologist – a scientist who studies fossils, in order to understand how things may have been in ancient times;
Dinosaurs – a brief explanation
[ ⇒ for more information about dinosaurs for kids, see Britannica Kids here ]
What were dinosaurs ?
🦕 Dinosaurs were a diverse group of now extinct lizardlike reptiles, that were the main animals on Earth for more than 150 million years. They appeared in the Triassic period and dominated throughout the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, the last dinosaurs becoming extinct 65.5 million years ago.
When were dinosaur bones & fossils first discovered ?
Fossils of dinosaurs have been known about for millenia – in fact, the Chinese thought them to be 🐲 dragon bones. In Europe at this time, dinosaur fossils were generally believed to be the remains of giants and other biblical beings. In the early 1800s, scientists began to study and understand the history of dinosaurs, and today’s scientists now know that dinosaurs were the ancient cousins of today’s crocodiles, snakes, and lizards. Scientists also believe that today’s birds descended from dinosaurs.
The exctinction of dinosaurs
The 🦕 last dinosaurs became extinct 65.5 million years ago.
Scientists still do not agree about why this happened.
- ☀️ some scientists think that dinosaurs died out because the temperature on Earth got too hot or too cold for them;
- 💥 others believe that a huge asteroid collided with Earth. The collision could have produced dust that blocked the Sun’s heat and light for months or even years. Plants would have stopped growing, and plant-eating dinosaurs would have died from lack of food. So would have the meat eaters that hunted them.
Some animals lived through the time when the dinosaurs disappeared. The ancestors of today’s frogs, turtles, lizards, and snakes found a way to survive. Birds also survived. Scientists do not know why some animals lived but the dinosaurs did not.” (Britannica Kids)
DINOSAUR PRINTS near the Pays du Mont-Blanc
So, where near the Pays du Mont-Blanc, can you see remnants of 🦕 dinosaur prints?
Dinosaur prints at Lac d’Emosson (Trient, Valais, Switzerland)
Just across the border in 🇨🇭 neighbouring Switzerland, you can hike to see some 🦕 real dinosaur prints. 250 million years ago, a herd of dinosaurs left their footprints at the site.
It’s a fairly long hike to the dinosaur prints (a 5h boucle), so this would be suitable for older children . . .
Emosson is a hugehydroelectric dam located on the 🇫🇷 Franco – 🇨🇭 Swiss border, and there are walking paths and wonderful views of the mountains from up there. Over the summer holidays, you can take a guided tour with a geologist from the Muéum Genève (Natural History Museum of Geneva) . . . you can equally just hike to the dinosaur prints independently . . .
[ ⇒ for more details about the hike, see here ]
The Vallée du Trient has developed an annotated hike . . .
Dinoplagne ® (l’Ain)
[ note autumn 2022 – shuts for winter hibernation from September ⇒ May (so will re-open in May 2023 ! ]
Recently opened, Dinoplagne® is a site paléontologique boasting the ” plus longue piste d’empreintes titanosaure au monde “, discovered in 2009. It has been labelled an Espace Naturel Sensible de l’Ain, after many archaological digs.
At this park, you’ll discover the dinosaur prints, but also the the archaological digs leading to their discovery. You’ll need to wear good shoes and take water, as there is quite a bit of walking involved!
Children can enjoy a jeu de piste conceived just for them (to find the mystery dinosaur), and there is a virtual reality experience, plunging you back 150 million years.
On-site, you’ll also find picnic tables and a playground, and there are workshops available.
website & FB page address: Site paléontologique de Dinoplagne®, RD49, 01130, Plagne / tel: 04 50 48 48 68;
DINOSAUR & PRESHISTORY PARKS near the Pays du Mont-Blanc
Tropicaland – parc animalier (near Saint Julien-en-Genevois)
You’ll find 35 dinosaurs from the Jurassic period living harmoniously amongst the real animals (goats, rabbits, lamas, exotic birds) at this park . . . and there is a jeu de piste.
Be sure to take a picnic, which you can eat on the shaded terrace, and plenty of water (there is no restaurant or running water on-site).
A little further away . . .
Parc Dino-Zoo (Charbonnières-les-Sapins, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté)
Located between Besançon and Pontarlier, in this park you’ll be exploring pre-history, by wandering past real-size dinosaurs in the forest!
You’ll find play areas and plenty of animations (at Easter there is an egg hunt, and at Halloween the park is decorated with pumpkins!) and workshops.
Zoo préhistorique d’Aven – Marzal (Saint-Remèze, Ardèche)
« La forêt des dinos! » was the first “prehistoric zoo” created in France in 1983 – across 3 hectares, and along a parcours of 800m, paleontologists worked to create real-size dinosaurs and prehistoric man.
Within the same site, you’ll also find:
- a museum – about the underworld of caves and the material used by speleologists;
- a grotte – a 45mins tour will take you 125m deep into the Avan-Marzal cave;
MUSEUMS near the Pays du Mont-Blanc with dinosaur or prehistory exhibitions
You’ll find some permanent exhibitions about prehistory and dinosaurs here:
Musée de Prehistoire et de Géologie (Sciez, Lac Léman)
Not too far from the Pays du Mont-Blanc, in Sciez, you ‘ll find the Musée de Préhistoire et de Géologie. There are often ateliers over the school holidays.
website & FB page address: Musée de Préhistoire et Géologie, 207 route du Moulin de la Glacière, 74140, Sciez;
A little further away, you have . . .
Musée de l’Ours du Caverne (Entremont-le-Vieux, Chartreuse)
More than 25,000 years ago, a cave now known as the « Balme à Collomb », was home to a prehistoric animal: the ursus spelaeus, or the ours des cavernes (cave-dwelling bear).
Le Musée de l’Ours des Cavernes shines a light on this hibernating creature, that lived alongside prehistoric man.
Over the holidays, you’ll find ateliers and animations.
Musée des Confluences (Lyon)
Origines, les récits du monde is part of the permanent parcours at this fabulous museum in Lyon. Here, you’ll learn about the origins of the universe, 🌎 life & mankind and evolution.
” Two approaches to the question of origins are compared in this section: one from paleontology, natural and physical sciences, the other from human sciences and illustrated by ethnographic collections and contemporary works. In permanent dialogue in the exhibition, these two approaches become deeply complementary. ” (Musée des Confluences).
As well as numerous fossils and dinosaur bones, you’ll find the skeleton of 🦣 the Mammouth de Choulans, found in 1959 on la montée de Choulans in Lyon; it lived when alpine glaciers still covered Lyon and it used to reside in the old Muséum d’histoire naturelle of Lyon, which some visitors still remember.
Behind the scenes at the Musée des Confluences, is the collection de paléontologie, which has a large collection of fossils found in Rhône-Alpes and the vallée du Rhône, donated in the 19th century by Victor Thiollière (1860) and Eugène Dumortier (1876). As part of the collection, are also 7400 Jurassic and Cretaceous ammonites discovered in Spain by Jeannine Geyssant and Raymond Enay, and donated to the museum in 2000.
The museum also organises its own archaeological digs in France.
Caves & prehistoric paintings
There are caves all over France (with a high concentration in the Ardèche and the Dordogne), some with cave paintings, which allow us to learn more about prehistoric man and animals . . .
Not far from the Pays du Mont-Blanc (be sure to take a warm top, even on summer visits!), you have:
Grottes du Cerdon – parc de loisirs préhistoriques (Labalme, l’Ain)
Located 1h from Annecy, Geneva and Lyon, the Grottes du Cerdon is both a cave to visit and a large prehistoric park to discover in nature. You can take guided or autonomous visits of the cave, and there are ateliers and animations in the park outside.
Archaeological digs show that these caves were inhabited by prehistoric man, and animal bones have also been found.
Grottes de La Balme (La Balme-les-Grottes, Isère)
These caves have a history dating back 170 million years, when the south-east of France was covered by a shallow sea, leaving behind fossils of marine life. The caves themselves were formed at the end of the before last Ice Age, 130,000 years ago, with melting glacial water carving out the different galleries. The last Ice Age, coming to an end 15,000 years ago, finished carving out the river bed between the entrance to the caves and the underground lake. The caves were frequented by prehistoric man since the end of the Paleolithic Age.
You can take a guided or autonomous visit, see the stalagmites and stalactites, 🦇 the bat community and the underground lake.
The Ardèche has many caves open to the public, some popular because of geological formations, some for son & lumière displays on the water, some for prehistoric cave paintings . . .
[ ⇒ for a list of caves to visit in the Ardèche, see here ]
The Grottes Chauvet 2, a man-made exact replica of the original Chauvet-Pont d’Arc caves, are a must for a journey into prehistory!
Grottes Chauvet 2 (l’Ardèche)
The original Chauvet-Pont d’Arc caves were discovered in 1994, by Jean-Marie Chauvet, Éliette Brunel and Christian Hillaire, during a private spelelogical visit. The decision to NOT open the caves to the public was taken, with the hindsight of knowledge of the damage incurred by the public at the Grottes de Lascaux in the Dordogne.
MBFF visited this incredible site a few summers ago – we were there for so long, that by the time our guided visit of the replica caves began, our then 4 year old was asleep in his daddy’s arms – he missed the whole visit!
You’ll need to set aside a good half day to explore the site :
- replica caves (guided visit) – you’ll need to reserve this;
- exhibitions – both permanent (la Galerie de l’Aurignacien) and temporary (currently, the son & lumière spectacle ANIMAL);
- picnic spots and restaurant;
In a deep cave, some of humankind’s first artists created a work of art comprising: horses, lions, rhinos and other animals painted with red ochre – in movement, running, chasing . . . the highlight is the grande fresque des lions, 12m long and with 92 animals painted in movement.
36,000 years later, a group of scientists, engineers and artists recreated the original caves; like the Grottes de Lascaux, an exact replica of the orignial caves was made – Grottes de Chauvet 2. Today, by visiting Chauvet 2, we get a glimpse into the life of prehistoric man and the animals he lived amongst.
Aven d’Orgnac – grottes & cité de la préhistoire (l’Ardèche)
The caves of Aven d’Orgnac are beautiful – an underground cathedral – and they are the only caves labelled Grand Site de France.
In addition, on-site is the Cité de la Préhistoire, a modern museum of prehistory. You’ll find all sorts of interactive activities on offer, as well as ateliers and animations over the summer holidays. You’ll also find a playground, picnic spots, fast-food options and a shop.