Archeological remains indicate that humans have lived in what is
now France for at least 100,000 years. From about 50,000 to 8000
BC, Paleolithic cultures lived in the area, leaving extraordinary
paintings on cave walls.
The famous caves at Lascaux and elsewhere in southwest France date
from this period. Neolithic cultures that populated France from
4000 to 2000 BC left behind thousands of stone monuments; the coastal
regions of Brittany are especially rich in these prehistoric remains.
More sophisticated cultures began to develop by about 2000 BC, and
by about 800 BC a semi-agricultural Iron Age culture was dominant
in much of France. After this, the Celts began to dominate; between
500 BC and AD 500 they migrated from central Europe to form most
of the population of central and western France.
The culture of France has profoundly influenced that of the entire
Western world, particularly in the areas of art and letters, and
Paris has long been regarded as the fountainhead of French culture.
France first attained cultural preeminence in Europe during the
Middle Ages; later, the wealth of the French crown in the 16th,
17th, and 18th centuries provided a subsidization of art on a scale
comparable to that of the papacy in Rome, attracting to Paris many
of Europe's most talented artists and artisans.
Wealth also created a leisure class, which had both the time and
the means for developing elegance in dress, manners, furnishings,
and architecture. French styles still pervade much of Western culture.