Skip to comments.Were Cavemen Painting For Their Gods?
Posted on 03/06/2005 3:20:58 PM PST by blam
Were cavemen painting for their gods?
The meaning of Ice Age art has been endlessly debated, but evidence is increasing that some was religiously motivated, says Paul Bahn
At least 70,000 years ago, our ancestors began to adorn their bodies with beads, pendants and perhaps tattoos; by 35,000 years ago, they had begun to paint and engrave animals, people and abstract motifs on cave walls, like those in Lascaux, France, and Altamira in Spain. They sculpted voluptuous figurines in ivory or stone, such as the Venus of Willendorf.
Underestimating art: 35,000 years ago, our ancestors began painting representations of animals
Ever since Ice Age art began to be discovered a century ago, people have wondered what it meant. How could we understand what these early artists were trying to express? Many theories have been put forward "art for art's sake", totemism, hunting magic and so on.
But all fell by the wayside as evidence accumulated that these theories were at best incomplete and usually untenable.
Much nonsense has been published about "shamans", hallucinations and the like, but these fantasies tell us a great deal about the theorists and nothing about the Ice Age artists. Indeed, it denies them any kind of creativity, and relegates artistic production to the recording of images seen in "altered states of consciousness".
I believe that recent efforts have uncovered compelling evidence that motivation for some Ice Age art though by no means all was religious. There is hard evidence which gives us a glimpse of what they were striving to accomplish.
One of the most important and useful factors inherent in the study of rock or cave art is that its location has not changed it is still where the artist chose to put it and the viewer is occupying the same space that the artist occupied. This can give us a great deal of information that is far more solid and dependable than speculations about meaning.
For example, the decorated gallery of Fronsac in the Dordogne is only 35cm wide, while the "antelopes" of Pech Merle fantastic, imaginary creatures are drawn in a tiny chamber into which only one or two people can squeeze.
One must always bear in mind the role played in any culture by features of the landscape or of a site which were associated with particular myths or legends or events, traditional or tribal territories, sacred or holy areas or taboos.
Similarly, in any culture there may be "good" places and "bad" places; and even inside caves there were probably places where such intangible factors played an important role in the decoration of the walls.
I experienced this in the Eighties, when I accompanied the American writer John Pfeiffer to the French cave of Font de Gaume (Dordogne) one evening, with small candles for light. Both of us independently discovered that we had both felt at ease and happy inside the profusely decorated "bison sanctuary" at the end of the main corridor. But we both felt distinctly ill at ease in a different, undecorated part of the cave, and were glad to leave.
What was remarkable was that the curator of the cave had had the same feelings in those same parts of the cave.
The natural architecture of caves played a role in the way in which they were decorated. In many it seems obvious that the artists studied the layout of chambers, passages and major concretions indeed, in some cases they may have placed markers at significant spots.
Another factor which may have played a significant role in the choice of location is acoustics. Today, we tend to enter these caves speaking in hushed tones, but this may be wrong the original artists or users of the caves may well have been singing, chanting or praying loudly while the images were being made or used.
We will never know, but studies of acoustics in some Ice Age-decorated caves have detected a correlation between the locations of decoration and those places where men's voices can best be heard. Often, the areas with the best decoration have the best acoustics, while undecorated areas are totally flat in terms of sound quality.
In view of the obvious intelligence of the artists, it is extremely likely that, just as they took full advantage of the morphology of the cave and of particular rock shapes, so they would also have used any acoustic peculiarities.
Anyone who has heard stalactites being played inside a deep, dark cave they produce a soft marimba-like sound will know how amazing the experience can be.
One of the characteristics of Ice Age cave art is the exploitation of undulations in walls: this has been apparent since the discovery in 1879 of the Altamira bison drawn on protruding ceiling bosses. To gain a better idea of how these shapes would have appeared to Ice Age visitors, it is necessary to replicate the sources of light they would have used.
The same applies to studies of the visibility, or lack of it, of different figures, and this is the aspect which, I believe, can take us the farthest into the minds and motivations of the artists.
Much cave art appears to us to be "public", or at least on open display (although we have no idea which members of a group were allowed to see it, nor whether large numbers of people ever gathered in big cave chambers or around open-air figures). In certain cases, Ice Age people deliberately made it easier for the imagery to be seen by breaking stalagmites and stalactites.
More intriguing are the numerous cases where the imagery was purposely hidden, up high chimneys, under low overhangs or in niches. Such imagery was not made to be seen by other Ice Age people, but was intended to be seen by or was offered to something else, perhaps a deity, spirit or ancestor. In other words, some cave art (but not necessarily all of it) was clearly religious in some way and produced out of strongly held motivations.
The ultimate example of this phenomenon has been found in the cave of Pergouset, in the Lot region of France, where the engraved art begins only after a long crawl, at full stretch, down a narrow, low, wet and unpleasant passage.
One of the engraved figures, a horse head, was made at arm's length inside a fissure into which the artist could not possibly have inserted his or her head: even the artist never saw this figure; it was not meant to be seen by human eyes.
Inaccessibility seems to be the crucial factor in most of the "private" art. Indeed, the overcoming of obstacles, the discomforts and dangers, seemed to have been more important than the actual images.
From what we know of the Maya of Central America, one of the few other ancient cultures which habitually decorated deep caves, it seems the art was not made to last; its survival was irrelevant. The placing of figures in the most inaccessible location possible was linked to remoteness from the normal everyday world and it is this remoteness which made the images as sacred as possible.
This could certainly be true at Le Tuc d'Audoubert in the French Pyrenees, where the famous clay bison were made, at the far end of the cave, after a tortuous and arduous journey of 900m the farthest point that could be reached. The images were left there in the darkness, and almost certainly nobody returned to see them until their discovery in the early 20th century.
Boy O Boy. They must not have had their crystals with them.
Venus of Willendorf
c. 24,000-22,000 BCE
43/8 inches (11.1 cm) high
(Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna)
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Cave men painting for the gods? Not necessarily. Sir James Fraser, the great anthropologist postured that primitive beliefs center around two overriding principles: like begets like and contagion. With the former, if you jump up and down while planting your seeds, the plants are liable to grow very tall; if you draw a picture of an animal you are accustomed to hunting and place a spear in a critical area of the pictured animal, you'll have an equal measure of success in the actual hunt.
Same reason I have deer paintings.
I like 'em, I hunt 'em, I eat 'em.
Animals are great!
I'm sorry, I think that is "The Goddes of Bayonne".
For sure. Trust academics to miss the visceral appeal of what's good and good for you.
Wasn't that lil'gal in "Saturday Night Fever"?
"24,000-22,000 BCE" - must stand for Before Consuming Everything.
Hm. Thought I was the only one to do that.
Voila, a pinata!
These guys were worshipping Santa Claus.
Don't let PETA find out the true origin of the pinata.
Where is that fat lady's face?
You can see her gotch.
She's probably a Saints fan.
It is a poor author who heeds not his own caution.
LOL. The controversal item is on her head. Humans weren't suppose to be weaving clothing at that time. Her cap looks woven, doesn't it?
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There is a cave in El Juyo, Spain, in which a rock with a natural fissure in it has been carved on one side in the figure of a cat, and on the other in the figure of a man. I believe that the people who did that, and who made the cave paintings were in such awe of the world around them, and of the mysteries of even their own being, that they dealt with it the only way they could - artistically. It is recognition, acknowledgment, whatever you want to call it, but why would they do it if they didn't have an inkling already that there was something beyond themselves, greater than themselves?
"24,000-22,000 BCE" - must stand for Before Creatures Evolved.
Man freezing in a cave wishing for food.
Cretan MythologyRobert Graves mentions in his book The White Goddess that an Aurignacian cave painting at Cogul in Spain depicts a similar ceremony or ritual. The scene shows a young man naked, apart form a pair of leather buskins, surrounded by nine witches with conical hats. Next to them is a black pig or boar which no doubt represents the Dark Goddess synonymous with the Moirae or Fates and running away is a young fawn with another rider on its back representing the escaping soul of the doomed victim. The entire scene parallels the myth of Perseus, his encounter with the Graeae and his decapitation of the Gorgon Medusa apart from the more obvious patriarchal revisions.
www.good.co.uk/oneworld/minoan.html [original is a dead link]
Women and Animals: Rock Shelter Painting, Cogul, Lerida, Spain, c. 4000-3000 BC (BCE), Museo Arqueologico, Barcelona
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Black conical hats ...
That's her FRO, man.
"Venus of Willendorf"
They had McDonald's back then? Or is it possible to get fat without habitually pigging out on junkfood?
Remember that some of the female "Mummies Of Urumchi' wore tall pointed hats.
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Yeah, really... it could have been something just to pass the time. "As long as I'm cooped up in this cave for the winter, I may as well do something." Boredom. Could have been just graffiti. Why should things have changed? :')
The article / writer does not take into account the possibility that the paintings, engravings, statuary, etc.. were teaching or memory aids, meant to assist in maintaining the oral tradition... these symbols and drawings used to communicate those principles to the neophyte hunters. In a way, they are the first written language, precursor to pictographs and heiroglyphics.Another good possibility IMHO. The rebus concept may be at work, as it has been suggested in other, much less ancient pictures and inscriptions.
In her Plato Prehistorian: 10,000 to 5000 B.C. Myth, Religion, Archaeology, Mary Settegast reproduces a table which shows four runic character sets; a is Upper Paleolithic (found among the cave paintings), b is Indus Valley script, c is Greek (western branch), and d is the Scandinavian runic alphabet. On page 75 of the following title there's a quote from Allan Forbes and Thomas Crowder, source of the Magdalenian character set reproduced by Mary Settegast:Dancing girls and the merry MagdalenianThe people who created the first surviving art in Britain were committed Europeans, belonging to a common culture spanning France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, according to the man who discovered the cave art in Creswell Crags, Nottinghamshire. And the essential preoccupations of this single market in ice-age art, it seems, were hunting and naked dancing girls... Paul Pettitt, of Sheffield University's archaeology department, said: "The Magdalenian era was the last time that Europe was unified in a real sense and on a grand scale." ...They would have kept in close contact, possibly through yearly meetings, with people in the middle Rhine, the Ardennes forest and the Dordogne. At the time it was possible to walk from Nottinghamshire to the Dordogne... The cave complex and attendant museum - where visitors can see iron-age stone tools found in the caves - now attract 28,000 visitors a year, bringing much needed income to the former mining village.
by Sean Clarke
Thursday April 15, 2004
Here's a quote from page 77:The Lost Civilization of the Stone Age"The proposition that Ice Age reindeer hunters invented writing fifteen thousand years ago or more is utterly inadmissible and unthinkable. All the data that archaeologists have amassed during the last one hundred years reinforce the assumption that Sumerians and Egyptians invented true writing during the second half of the fourth millennium. The Palaeolithic-Mesolithic-Neolithic progression to civilisation is almost as fundamental an article of contemporary scientific faith as heliocentrism. Writing is the diagnostic trait, the quintessential feature of civilisation. Writing, says I.J. Gelb, 'distinguishes civilised man from barbarian.' If Franco-Cantabrians [i.e. Ice Age inhabitants of parts of France and Spain] invented writing thousands of years before civilisation arose in the Near East, then our most cherished beliefs about the nature of society and the course of human development would be demolished."
by Richard Rudgley
"Forbes and Crowder's justification for reviving the idea that writing may perhaps be traced back to the Ice Age is based on the fact that a considerable number of the deliberate markes found on both parietal and mobile art from the Franco-Cantabrian region are remarkably similar to numerous characters in ancient written languages extending from the Mediterranean to China."Settegast's very brief discussion of Paleolithic runes, apparently an alphabet, which shares signs with the much later Indus Valley script, western Greek, and Runic or Baltic writing, is a bit daunting because it suggests that some kind of logographic, syllabic, or even alphabetic writing must be at least 12,000 years old, nearly three times as old as the known systems of hieroglyphics and cuneiform. From her book, p 1:
It now seems that this same Magdalenian culture had already harnessed the horse by 12000 BC, some 8000 years before the date assigned to the domestication of the horse in the conventional model...partially adapted and reprised from...
Macro-Etymology: Paleosigns [writing 20,000 years ago?]
Macro-Etymology Website | prior to May 20, 2005 | the webmasters thereof
Posted on 05/19/2005 11:00:18 PM PDT by SunkenCiv
Just updating the GGG info, not sending a general distribution.
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