What They Left Behind


Prehistorian Jean Clottes standing in the reconstructed replica of Chauvet.

The stories and songs of prehistoric people are lost. Their art and artifacts are all that remain of their culture.

The painted caves of Ice Age Europe are the world’s most famous examples of prehistoric art. What does this art reveal about the people who made it? Why did they paint those images on cave walls? What do the images mean?

Jean Clottes is one of the world’s preeminent prehistorians and a leading expert on prehistoric art. He has devoted his life to asking these big questions, and his insights have challenged popular assumptions about prehistoric art and how it evolved.

In this episode, producer Neil Sandell visits Clottes at his home in the foothills of the Pyrénées in France, and they journey deep into a painted cave called Niaux to see the famous Salon Noir.

“What They Left Behind” was the winner of the 2018 Prix Marulić International Audio Festival in the documentary category.

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This season of Origin Stories is made possible by support from Dixon Long.

The Leakey Foundation thanks the following people for their generous support of this episode: 

Jean and Ray Auel, Sharal Camisa, Dennis Fenwick and Martha Lewis, Victoria and Barry Fong, Jeanne Newman, Sharon Metzler-Dow, and Lisa and Bill Wirthlin.

Bonus Content

A trailer from the 2011 documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams by Werner Herzog.


The art of Niaux Cave.






Producer Neil Sandell

Editor Julia Barton 

Series Producer Meredith Johnson

Sound Design Neil Sandell


Sound Engineer Katie McMurran

Intern Yuka Oiwa

Theme Music Henry Nagle 

Additional Music

Kai Engel “Denouement” and “Difference”
Parvus Decree “The Eternal Wheel” and “Gau”
Alex Mason “Other”
Scott Holmes “Still Missing”
Lee Rosevere “Tech Toys”