Sid Tafler

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What does cave art mean to you?

Stone Age art has fascinated people around the world since some of the first discoveries of cave paintings in France and Spain in the 19th century.
The recent Werner Herzog film "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," showcasing the spectacular panels of lions and horses at Chauvet, brought new attention to Paleolithic art.
If you haven't gazed into the deep past recently, do a web search for Lascaux, Chauvet or Altamira cave.

What do these arts forms mean to you?
Do you find them beautiful, primitive, artistically inspired, or something less?
Are these drawings art for art sake, an attempt by Paleolithic people to reproduce the world they experienced?
Or do they have some deep cosmic or spiritual significance?
Why did these people of 15,000 to 30,000 years ago often create these works in places that were difficult to access?
Were they trying to communicate with each other, access worlds beyond their own, or engage in hunting magic?
Or were they just enjoying themselves scratching and drawing on cave walls?

  • May 10 2012: We humans living in our 'modern' world tend to not consider the fact that physically and in an evolutionary sense we are basically the same beings as those who did that art. And indeed it is art--used for whatever purpose. You ask us to specualate as to those purposes, but, well, they are gone and cannot communicate their motives, so anything any of us says is pure speculation. Though we can enjoy and be fascinated by the beauty of this art. It does offer a sense of holiness.

    Understanding the obvious, that humans alive today are no more human that the people who created that art (there are many examples around the world) is good enough for me. They couldn't understand the cosmos any better than I can. And though humanity as learned a lot collectively since then, (and we brush are teeth every day, for example) we are still the same biological beings as back then.
    • May 10 2012: "They couldn't understand the cosmos any better than I can."

      Maybe you are right , they couldn't understand, but they could feel/experience/be the cosmos.
      It's how 'knowing about' differs from 'knowing' .

      Thanks for your comment, I've got my 'aha' moment !
      • May 12 2012: they could feel/experience/be the cosmos.
        It's how 'knowing about' differs from 'knowing'

        Exactly what I meant, though 'could've said it better. Thanks!
        • May 13 2012: Welcome !
          Maybe, it is the way of the evolution of human consciousness :
          we are "to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time "
          I think Paleolithic art has something to do with it :)
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    May 9 2012: Man's innate need for expression...
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    May 23 2012: We are instinctively drawn to finding patterns. But there is a reason. Mandelbrot has revealed through Fractal Geometry that indeed there is no such thing as chaos, for even chaos has patterns. The twig is the branch is the tree, is the forest. All things emanate from a simple essence, a pattern. Since we are made of patterns, we seek it.

    I am currently studying the evolutionary roots of human imagination. Imagination is NOT random, the symbols do have patterns. Depth Psychology explores these symbolic patterns and narratives. The brain is designed to retain narratives, not facts. Facts are remembered as associations to narratives. It is how we retain and access memory. For instance, dreaming of snake
    could be a cue that the reptilian brain has made an important connection or role in the brain's narrative. Bird dreams are related to parenting and family because from an evolutionary standpoint life learned how to parent when it evolved from reptile to bird. The patterns have a source in our anatomy.

    And if Mandelbrot's theory has a universal application, our propensity for pattern-seeking comes from the unconscious understanding that nature, including us is filled with patterns hidden behind the illusion of chaos.
    The imagination of the artist with a broken pinky has a source from his own visions, the very same visions that inspire the luminaries that created the world's religions.
    • May 23 2012: Mandelbrot set gives me the image:

      everything everywhere is doing the same thing infinitely.
      It resonates with " one moment holds eternity "
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      May 23 2012: Plus the whole thing is emanating from a water source (now dry of course) at a center which is in keeping with the symbolic function of Mem, (or water) that consciousness is the source which the VEDAS insist is the source of "creation". Now the definition of consciousness becomes rather controversial in this day and age and ripe for further further debate. In the book 25 Big Ideas, the author discusses that today's consensus is that it is not about being conscious or not, rather the level of consciousness. Like for instance we are highly conscious of so many details in our environment whereas a sunflower is conscious of where the sun is, but is conscious perhaps of only that. The Caves are really really interesting in that you can see it as primitive art OR something else depending on how much you know.
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    May 22 2012: Hi Natasha,

    There is a controversial study relating Semetic beliefs with Hindu beliefs. The academic book is entitled Aryans, Jews, Brahmins by Dorothy M Figuera. In effect the Brahmins, were actually ABrahamins. Protosinatic symbols, the great grand daddy of written Hebrew reveal a foundational hierarchy of concepts. http://net.lib.byu.edu/imaging/negev/pix/06a.jpg.html. The Alef, the OX being the prime generator of all things. Also representing no.1 and spirit/breath followed by the "House", the phonetic Beyt...which is also a WOMB in use and context, for the number 2 is considered female, hence the shape of the letter B, the side view of a pregnant woman. The Lascaux caves are reflect the same story in the stalactite. I am doubtful that the cave was born from an innocent time but rather a decline of something that used to be more sophisticated. In Iran, home of the Aryans, pottery shards dating back 12,000 years were found. These people emerged from the last ice age "fair skinned" and knowledgeable. http://www.iranchamber.com/people/articles/aryan_people_origins.php. I do believe that we have lost years. http://books.google.com/books/about/The_Lost_Civilizations_of_the_Stone_Age.html?id=vhSHn-B89A0C.

    True, it is highly possible that they are recurring symbols of the mind as Jung and Campbell asserts. But it is my belief that we hold on inexplicably to the inner reality because they resonate. These recurring themes do not die or fizzle out because we cling to them as our internal mirrors. Religious symbols have these mirrors and serve the function of unconsciously instructing us how to evolve.
    The Ox (or as I always say, the ox-power in the same way as we use horse-power now, implying that the first manifestation is spirt/strength-FORCE)
    is just one of those things that we instinctively believe as the generator of all things seen.

    Thanks for enriching the conversation!

    http://Storyteller.artistswanted.org/self2012
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        May 22 2012: Abraham is a patriarch, no? Aba means father. So you are essentially saying that Abraham's name is a derivative of a Hindu belief which admittedly is what the Hindu side is saying. That it is they that fathered Judaism and not vice versa.

        For more readings on the connection between the two, visit this link:
        http://www.torahveda.org/

        "ABRAHAM AND THE BRAHMINS

        Genesis 25:6:
        "And to the concubine children who were Abraham's, Abraham gave gifts; then he sent them away from Isaac his son, while he was still alive, eastward, to the land of the east."

        These were the children of Hagar, Sarah's handmaiden with whom Abraham fathered Ishmael, the progenitor of the Islamic strand of Abraham's ethical monotheism. Hagar was also called Ketura, which means "incense." Did these journeyers-to-the-east children of Abraham's become the Brahmins? The timing would be right, Abraham lived around 2100 B.C.E., and the Upanishads and Rig Veda emerged in India in about 1500 B.C.E. The similarity of "Abraham" and "Brahmin" may be purely coincidental. Like the fact that the Nordic version of Adam and Eve, the primordial couple, were called in the Eddas "Ask and Embla" [ash and elm trees]."

        But we are digressing. We can start another discussion about this in another thread. The point that I am pointing out when I mentioned Bet and the Ox is that the same images are found in the caves which pre-exists both religions.
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        May 22 2012: The Logos, or the power of the spoken word has its roots on the very same phonetic sounds. In ancient egypt the alef-bet is known only by magicians are said to posses magic that when uttered, invokes events and transformations.
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        May 22 2012: Absolutely, so the ox and the woman in the cave stalactites are depicting the very religious sentiment you just shared with us. And those drawings are about 30,000 years old. very curious.
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        May 23 2012: Hi Chris,

        Your interfaith insignia tells me what you understand from the "the true history of humanity". PBS has some ideas. http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/pyramid-code/
    • May 23 2012: CECILIA !
      Thank you for responding !
      What you said is amazingly interesting, I've always had the feeling that there is a Mystery here !

      "...I am doubtful that the cave was born from an innocent time but rather a decline of something that used to be more sophisticated.''

      I don't know, but these paintings do resonate through millennia !
      I share your belief, that everything came from one source and we can relate to it intuitively.
      What goes 'in' as one comes 'out' as many and symbols are aimed to reunite us with one.
      Maybe it's just the case with cave paintings...and really "we have lost years " !

      Fallowing your discussion with Chris I 've become conscious , aware how ignorant i am in those
      matters, and I am inspired to do something about it :)

      Thanks for the links and your beautiful story !

      Re "So conscious awareness means consciously conscious, or aware of awareness."

      I guess, " Cogito ergo sum" has something to do with it :)
      Descartes suggested that the pineal gland is "the seat of the soul"
      I would appreciate your opinion, what do think about 'the third eye ?

      Thanks !
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        May 23 2012: Hi Natasha!

        The third eye? The third eye, as I always say in my workshops, is constructed like an eye. But its located inside the brain instead of outside. So its the eye designed to observe light within. It is believed to be the source of visions. But visions are symbols culled from our unconscious associations. So I believe that what the pineal gland does, with all its eye rods and cones, is observe the light flashing inside the brain. It is observing the reality within. So to awaken the third eye, or the ability to foresee the future, one must look within for the unconscious [knowledge] as Jung puts it, has no end. Thank you for the thumbs up, for some reason TED site congratulates you. Isn't that funny?
        • May 23 2012: Hi CECILIA !!!

          From Wikipedia : "The human pineal gland grows in size until about 1–2 years of age, remaining stable thereafter...".

          And match :
          " Except you become as little children you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven "

          Interesting !!!

          Thank you !
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    May 21 2012: for me, cave art represents someone's best effort to collapse the centuries between us to share their hard earned insight.
    • May 21 2012: Hi, Debra !
      Nice to see you !
      'Insight ' is a good word, but what if, it was not 'earned ', but... had not yet been lost as a natural state ?
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        May 21 2012: Hi Natasha! I am delighted to have the chance to be on my all time favourite site again.

        We cannot look at their accomplishments through our own eyes. It was hard work to study the movement pattern of wild beasts without computers, satelites, notepaper etc. and they had to track on foot.They holped to nourish everyone they knew and I think they were trying to share their hard won knowledge. Perhaps?



        PS Can we have the recently commented category back, please? sOME FABULOUS DISCUSSIONS i FEEL THAT i AM MISSING .
        • May 22 2012: "We cannot look at their accomplishments through our own eyes."

          Absolutely ! We can't !
          We've developed highly sophisticated 'artificial' eyes, to study the movement patterns we need computers, we call it research, science....
          What for us is a quantum physics' revelation for a tribal shaman was everyday magic.
          What i am trying to say is : they feel interconnectedness while we, only now, start to understand it. It's us, who won knowledge, they simply felt that way.
          It's how 'knowing about' differs from 'knowing'.
          Only feeling/being one with an animal, a human hand could draw that unmistakably perfect line.
          I don't state anything... I am just trying to understand :)

          Thanks for responding, Debra !
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    May 21 2012: It's the expression of beautiful human mind......it was also communication of what the artistic mind was thinking at the dawn of human civilization......

    It means a beautifully creative / imaginative mind expresses itself regardless of time, space or condition .....
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      May 21 2012: Dear Salim! How I have missed your wisdom!
    • May 21 2012: Salim !

      "... what the artistic mind was thinking at the dawn of human civilization......"

      Maybe that mind was not thinking, but feeling ?
      In the context of our previous 'aha-moment' conversation, these paintings are uninterrupted 'aha-moment ' !
      What do you think ?
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        May 22 2012: Natasha!!

        What I think :).....I think and feel "YES" to what you wrote above....

        "Eureka" moment, "Aha" moment only comes in a thoughful mind , a mind which is also reflective as well.......what's your thoughts about it?

        In other discussion you were talking about "LEAP' moment due to neuronal activity.....as usual not being an expert in any field ......I feel that "LEAP" only happens if someone is focusing , reflecting on something conciously , subconciously then even unconciously.....

        If I am not wrong , Dostoevsky had a medical condition named Epilepsy.....after each epileptic seizure he used to get a plot of story ......!!! And his belief was that it was somewhat devine.....
        But scientifically Epilepsy happens due to uncontrol discharge of neuronal charges for a very short period of time......only thoughtful , reflective Dostoevsky used get wonderful PLOT for his writing ......but that is not the case to most of others with similar condition......

        Have a good day.
        • May 22 2012: Hi, Salim !

          'Eureka" moment, "Aha" moment only comes in a thoughful mind , a mind which is also reflective as well.......what's your thoughts about it?

          I think , "Eureka" comes to a thoughtful mind, AFTER the state of being unfocused, literally, not thinking.
          Knowing, by its very nature exists in a way form. Mind, being in the sate of thinking cant' get there.
          What is meditation ? - It's undisturbed mind, free from noise of thoughts. Does it obliterate consciousness ? Of cause not, it rather highlights it to the state of 'knowing'.
          But not everybody, who meditates makes breakthrough discoveries. To bring the message from there , the mind must be ready to receive it , it must have been adequately prepared by prior experience.
          That's what I called a 'leap' , a mind can tap directly into the non-algorithmic depth of knowing. Thinking - not thinking - shaping a new idea.
          Make no mistake, it's not the way it is; it's the way i think it is :)

          And now, let's return to the topic... what was the state of conscious of those humans, who were capable of revealing such undisturbed pure beauty ?
          Their mind was not trained in thinking, it didn't have to make a leap. It was in the flaw ...

          Thanks for asking ! :)
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        May 23 2012: Hi Natasha,
        Agree to a great extent.......

        My hypothesis is
        All creative people may not meditate conciously or trained way but subconcious or uncious way they might have some periods when their brain is not disurbed...................

        Benzene ring in chemistry was discovered by F. A. Kekule was a result of day dreaming as he said....... his dream was about a snake seizing it's own tail......that means thoughts were there still but may be it was a soothing thought or not creating any chatter in brain after he has done years on enormous analysis and research to come up with that structure....

        What do you think?
        • May 23 2012: Hi Salim !


          The history of science is rich in examples , Mendeleev's periodic table is also the gift of the dream. Or it could be the dream-like state of mind, or at least distracted, unfocused mind.

          The snake motif, that symbolises the yoga concept of kundalini helped Watson to discover the genetic molecule, DNA. And it was after the "years of enormous analysis and research".
          You see how symbol works ! Look through CECILIA' s comments if you haven't done it yet, symbols are connected with scientific breakthroughs in many ways.
          But what i find the most interesting that, truth of the scientific insight is judged in terms of aesthetic criteria.
          More and more often I hear the world "beautiful'' in a scientific context.
          Just start to pay attention at this seemingly odd pairing : beautiful equation, set ...it is everywhere...
          I think, that our intuitive mind doesn't discriminate Truth and Beauty. But to see the beauty in the equation your mind must be trained in this field.
          And so it goes on in circle...

          " thoughts were there still but may be it was a soothing thought or not creating any chatter in brain after he has done years on enormous analysis and research to come up with that structure...".
          Maybe "a soothing thought " is a symbol or image ?

          Thanks !
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    May 21 2012: Cave art I guess was all that was available to early man to make sense of the external world, and the effect it had on their collective internal worlds.

    Science and technology makes everything more certain to us now, seemingly obviating the need for art as being a representation of the unknown through mythology, metaphor, symbols and spirituality.

    But we are still largely ignorant of how the relentless bombardment of modern knowledge affects us internally - especially as that knowledge is almost entirely science-based and under-represented in art.

    The artistic outlets for coping with the 'internalised unknown' have largely vanished, leaving modern art as something of a pretence - a pastiche of what was once soulful expressiveness. Now it seems to originate from a region in the brain that is not naturally given to true, heartfelt expressiveness with the essential spiritual origins that once were prevalent.

    Some people still have deep feelings about how the moon affects us, for instance, rather than regarding it in the light of earthly geological certainties, as just a lump of dusty rock that astronauts have walked on. It is difficult to express those raw, deep feelings through art or in writing, without being regarded as a primitive lunatic.

    'Primitive' should not be seen as bad. If anything, it signifies mind and environment in balance - much better balance than the era we now live in.
    • May 21 2012: Allan,
      you are right, 'primitive' is not at all bad. One day we will understand what exactly that means.
      'Primitive' is a thing from which something is derived, not secondary ; from L. 'primitivus' - first or earliest of its kind.

      These images are not beautiful, they are BEAUTY !
      They give me an uncanny sense of deja vu, as if I see a familiar image and nothing can prevent me from recognising it for what it is.
      I have never felt such clarity...

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts !
  • May 21 2012: I would like to propose that cave art represents an attempt to psychologically join individuals within our newest and most spectacular adaptation, the tribe. Neanderthal man did not attempt to live in large groups but Cro Magnon, who existed side by side with neanderthals, did. The benefits of tribal living over isolated family groups was immense. Thiis was primarily because of specialization and mutual exchange, ie what today we call trade which forms the basis of tribal group living. Productivity soars when individuals specialize and trade. Indeed, the larger the group doing this the greater the payoffs per individual. However, costs must also increase. The greatest cost is violence. Animals do not trade they simply appropriate using a pecking order. Early tribal man had to overcome this to allow mutual exchange involving individual bargaining. To be able to achieve this massive leap forward a tribal identity had to evolve. Art, music and religion, which differs between tribal groups, provided the psychological glue. Only those with the same tribal culture could be trusted to obey the tribal rules guaranteeing mutual exchange (not just appropriation). Like the petals on a flower, tribal identity evolved to become more and more complex and beautiful allowing the size of the tribe to continuosly expand thereby increasing each individuals ability to successfully manipulate the natural environment. The modern human movement out of Africa, in which man prospered in just every natural environment, was entirely dependent on the success of our newly formed tribal adaptation. This in turn depended on each individual demonstrating sufficient empathy with fellow tribal members such that they could predict individual behavior relative to group based belief systems. As amazing as this may seem, the arts were primarily responsible for conveying early tribal identiy and norms.

    Regards,

    John Edser
    Independent Researcher

    edser@ozemail.com.au
    sci.bio.evolution
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    May 17 2012: Cave art is an attempt by humans to document a living experience. As an anthropologist I dont see them as primitive; the creators of such works used the resources that were available to them to symbolise the emotion of the time in images.
    There is no basis for comparing cave art with Da Vinci or Michael Angelo. A band with so many guitars,drums,pianos and wind instruments,played in harmony,is a band of musicians; a group of people seated around a fire and clapping happily as they sing and dance,are also making music.
    We should not fall into the trap of thinking that life and art started when pop culture became a glorified tool for the advancement of capitalism and its desperate drive for profit.
    Cave art is as valuable as modern art. Cave art is a connection to the past, an honest expression of being,and an heritage worth preserving.
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    May 15 2012: Having spent most of my childhood summers 20 miles from Lascaux, and having thought about what makes the human kind special (apart from wars, genocides and exploiting the earth until the very end) I have come to an optimistic vision:
    ART is the most beautiful trait of human kind.
    The will to express oneself through Art (whether it is painting, writing, sculpting, dancing, etc.) is unique.
    Art is at the forefront of every era. I look at art pieces to understand the world.

    Art is beautiful because it is useless in our everyday lives. Think of a "cave man" who painted the horses in Lascaux some 10000 or 20000 years ago. Life expectancy was about 25 years, finding food was a daily struggle and the only concern of these men. But one man (or woman!) f-e-l-t like it wasn't enough, and decided not to go hunting on a particular day and decided instead to go finding some flowers, minerals or whatever to fabricate chromatic pigments to paint and went deep in a cave and spent hours (days?) to draw his/her life, surroundings just for the sake of it.

    How could we call that? I call that spirituality.

    PS: to answer your question about the places difficult to access: Topography changed over thousands of years. Today it is hard to determine whether the caves -paintings- were 'accessible' or not, it remains an open debate. One thing is sure though: "cave men" didn't live in caves, they lived in the outdoors. Caves (at least all the caves I visited in Southwest France) are very cold and humid, nobody in his right mind would live inside caves, not even "cave men".
    • May 15 2012: A cave might not be the best place to live although there is some evidence that there was habitation near and in the entranceway if I remember correctly. However the cave depths would make the perfect place to go into for some sort of torch/lamp lit ritual. Or some theatre/dance/storytelling lit by the same method. Or maybe it was the the equivalent of an art gallery meant to be appreciated by the variety of lighting available in those conditions?
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      May 15 2012: Bruno,
      Merci pour vos reflections.
      It seems to me these works at Lascaux took many months or years to learn the technique, master the craft and days to create.
      I think you're right about caves, they probably lived in rock shelters, open air spaces, covered by a roof of rock in the side of a mountain. Perhaps at the back of the rock shelter was a cave, that's how I present it in the book I am writing.
      I have visited caves in the Lot, but not the Vezere. I look forward to visiting the area in the future.
  • May 15 2012: One can look at stone tools and skull fragments and infer a lot about the type of brain that our ancestors had. To me these cave paintings represent the point where we can say with absolute certainty that these people were truely like us.

    I certainly find them very beautiful and artistically insired but it's impossible to know what the actual purpose of these paintings were. Very probably we will never know, but an interesting thought occured to me while trying to imagine what could have been going through the artists mind. Imagine a Paleolithic Shakespeare equivalent wanting to produce a truely imaginative piece of theatre and using or maybe even helping to create these paintings as a back-drop for her or his storytelling.

    What was the story? The legend of a really impressive hunt, the creation myth of all the source of all the animals? Or was it more like a documentary instructing the youth how to best recognise and hunt certain animals at night by torchlight. Wait a minute...

    Eureka! They were an early form of TED talk discussing the correct way to hunt various animals while sustaining the ecological balance of the habitat ;)
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      May 15 2012: Terry,
      Interesting thought, a backdrop to story-telling or theatre.
      Another theatre surmises some of these works were an early form of cinema.
      In the right light and angle, some of those forms look like they're in motion.
      • May 15 2012: I'm glad you liked the idea, it just seemed to pop into my head at the time I wrote it.

        On reflection it occurs to me that the idea probably came from having recently watched a documentary about Shakespeare that mentioned the theatre Blackfriars which the bard used to stage some of his later plays to a smaller, more upmarket audience. A more intimate setting lit with candle light with the audience sat around the front of the stage in a semi circle sounds rather like a cave to me.

        I guess that's where my intuition dragged the idea up from and probably why I had the notion of a Paleolithic Shakespeare rather than say, a Paleolithic Aristophanes. It's certainly interesting that you note in the right light and angle some of the forms look like they are in motion. Maybe it was meant to serve as a backdrop for storytelling or a backdrop for some sort of ritual purpose...
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          May 16 2012: The Lascaux cave illustrations seem to have very similar concepts that I found studying ancient Semetic writing. I had been suspecting that the cave reflects a belief system so old that only remnants of it can be seen in Hindu beliefs and Judaic beliefs. The Ox and the Woman which is drawn on a stalactite at the very end of the cave seem to have something to do with what became eventually cow worship (which "Moses" disagreed with in Genesis, the cow was a symbol of something else, it was not meant to be worshipped but understood for what it represented). The phonetic sound A is from an image of an ox, which means spirit, strength and first. I have come to understand it as ox-power in the same way as horse-power is used to measure force. Ancient beliefs are consistent in cow worship. The ancients seem to have thought that that ox-strength (energy) is the creator of the universe.

          I think our religions are remnants of a very very old belief system and the caves showed me just how old they might be.

          Studying ancient art has made me realize that man has always been aware, always been contemplating the mystery that is human spirituality.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySRIvlmPbH0
        • May 21 2012: CECILIA !

          I am happy to find your comment here !
          You said :
          I think our religions are remnants of a very very old belief system and the caves showed me just how old they might be.

          Could it be not very old belief system, but a kind of a farewell to that state of consciousness, when mind has not yet replaced the sensation of being one with a world ,
          with a world of symbolic equivalents ?

          " A land of innocence has no need for gods "

          The Lascaux cave paintings are stunningly beautiful, as if beauty , love, truth , god were not yet named and felt as separate.

          Thanks for the link ! It's a fascinating talk !!!
          I'd like to know more about your research, could you help me with references, links ?

          Thank you very much !!!
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    May 15 2012: Just last semester I studied cave art. They are indeed breathtakingly beautiful. To me they meant a lot more than just another painting. Those cave arts are also a window to humanities in that era. Until today we still can't understand fully the lives of our ancestors, but those cave arts gives us a glimpse.

    My best guess would be that the cave arts are used to communicate between people and also as a form of entertainment. Whatever the use of cave paintings really are, I think that the paintings are proof that art has been with us all along, since the very first birth of human.
  • May 10 2012: I like Picasso's sentiment that, to paraphrase, we've learned nothing new in 20,000 years (leaving Lascaux). I read David Lewis-Williams's "Mind in the Cave" some years ago and studied cave painting some; the things that touched me most were evidence of gender differences in the hand prints, evidence of a child, held in an adult's arms while the adult blew the child's print on the wall, the extraordinary execution in difficult, cramped spaces. We haven't changed significantly, for all our technological mastery
    I enjoyed Herzog's movie immensely, and deeply appreciated him documenting Chauvet for posterity; though I couldn't follow him on some of his more somber, cryptic digressions. The albino crocs seemed a stretch.
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    May 9 2012: There is a wisdom tradition in many ancient and widely dispersed cultures that rocks are either sentient or have the ability to record and replay sentience

    hommus spirtitualis

    perhaps only the rock images survived..can we know for sure their clothing and hides drum heads and spear shafts were not also richly figurated and decorated invoking spriti, expressing spirit

    hommus spritualis

    impossible not to be moved by the celebration of abundance and of the rhythms and patterns of life in these chauvet images

    hommus spiritualis



    hommus spiritualis
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    May 8 2012: Cave of Forgotten Dreams is spellbinding. A fresh and very compelling re interpretation of all ancient cave paintings and rock paintings in this " meditation" on the Chauvet cave images.. I have only seen one ancient cave painting in person ( at Bandolier in New Mexico)..not as old as Chauvet or Lascaux but I was mesmerized..by the colors ( beautful reds and turquoise blue) and by the images..There is a lot about them that is primal, fundamental as in foundational, but they are not primitive.
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    May 23 2012: Great topic Sid!
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    May 23 2012: absolutely!
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    May 22 2012: Religious burials is a homosapien thing. The key difference is ritual. And it is quite documented, that human beings and religious rituals go hand in hand. Its a fact. Homo sapiens bother to have some kind of ceremonial burials with belief in some kind of higher force. Its an adaptation to uncertainty and death. Joseph Campbell talks about this extensively.
    Even Boskops with their large heads have some kind of spiritual ritual. The matter of prefrontal cortexes and porpoises can be argued in the body mass versus brain size. I suspect the conversation has become more an atheist/theist discussion, of which I am neither.
  • May 22 2012: I think most of it was useful information on how or where to hunt, but it isn't hard to imagine that some artists took joy in their efforts and were creative about it. After going to all the effort to manufacture paint and having vital information to impart, it would be silly to put your work in a place where erosion would erode or wash it away.
    My most intimate experience with cave art was in Baja South where I discovered some simple shapes in a place that my instinct told me would be a great place to catch deer. Sure enough, 5 minutes of searching revealed the glyphs! It is interesting to me that most cave art is focussed on animals (food) rather than supernatural beings (gods). This suggests to me that the pragmatics of survival trumped religious or spiritual worship or exploration. It is only after we domesticated plants and animals that we had the time for theological musings.
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      May 22 2012: Animal art was a spiritual exercise as well. In fact gods/God only became human progressively in the last 6,000 years during the rise of civilization. I think spirituality is a human adaptive trait. It comes with the developed pre-frontal cortex.
      • May 22 2012: It is hard to know for certain isn't it? I consider spirituality to be the sense of wonder and awe we (and quite probably other animals) feel towards the world, or universe. By your definition we would have to include toothed whales, porpoises and dolphins as they have developed pre-frontal cortexes. Adaptive? Perhaps, but spirituality could just be a side effect of conscious awareness, and may turn out to be maladaptive in the long run. The jury is out on that one I think. It is also quite probable that different cultures had different perspectives on spirituality, with some valuing it more than others. And there may be a correlation between the physical success of a tribe with level of spirituality in that a tribe living in territories that had bountiful resources would find the leisure time for spiritual reflection.
        We humans spend so much time emphasizing our differences from other animals that we often overlook our commonalities. As Tim Minchin likes to say, "we're just effing monkeys in shoes!"
      • May 23 2012: Good question! I reckon I would define it as, "the ability to think about our own thinking processes", but I suppose I would include in that the ability to think in about the past, present and future. Some theorist call it metacognition. I believe animals "think" but I suspect most don't analyze their thinking process and make choices based on their conclusions. That said, most humans don't think about thinking either; they simply react.

        It seems to me that a creature capable of metacognition would naturally arrive at questions about their origin and place within their observable universe.

        Someone once described humans as "meaning making machines" We want answers to everything and if verifiable conclusions can't be obtained we will make something up to fit our wants, needs and desires. They went on to say that, "There is life, and we give it meaning, but there may be no inherent meaning to anything." That seems to be a very difficult idea for humans to accept or even entertain. What do you think?
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          May 23 2012: con·scious/ˈkänCHəs/
          Adjective:
          Aware of and responding to one's surroundings; awake.
          Having knowledge of something; aware.

          can one ever be unconsciously aware? when you are not conscious, you are not aware.
          So conscious awareness means consciously conscious, or aware of awareness.

          The "ability to think about our own thinking process" is called introspection. I think I've badgered you enough Mike. I'm sorry, I can't help it. lol
      • Jun 3 2012: Don't stop. I love a good badgering! My use of language has failed me again it seems...
        We certainly can be subconsciously aware, and even an unconscious person responds physically to certain stimuli, so they are aware on some level.
        I am a little confused about the second definition "Having knowledge of something; aware" as it implies that awareness is knowledge. Perhaps awareness is information. Insects are aware, but may not have knowledge..... etc.
        What thinkest thou on the "adaptive unconscious"?
        And how do you know animal art was a spiritual exercise? Is that a hunch your subconscious mind tells you, or is it a conscious deliberation, and if so how did you arrive at it?
        Thanks you for the provocation Cecilia.
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    May 22 2012: man has always expressed himself though art. what we know about our ancestors is due to this art. they left us a huge treasure in the form of paintings thinking that the future generations will find it useful. they shared experiences through pictures like our elders and we share to the younger ones. they didn't have a language to write, but they had vision and art. it connects us with who we were.
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    May 22 2012: Cave art essentially reminds me that we all should always strive to leave our marks in this world before our time for living is up. Cave art reminds me that what we leave behind, in the physical and mental, can potentially become anothers treasure. Cave art reminds me to be clear on what I express.
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      May 22 2012: Good thinking, Kent.
      The marks we make may be on other people, kids,
      friends, neighbours, strangers.
  • May 21 2012: I personally believe that the first person whoever scribbled something on a wall said "hey that's cool." I think he did want to express himself, his world, his vision of how the world is put together. It had all sorts of meaning just as art today has. I think most of it was totemic, but at the same time, there is an incredible expession of beauty. That longing for beauty I think stretched all the way back to their so called primitive brains and touched their own not so primitive psyche.

    You I do think they enjoyed themsleves.
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    May 21 2012: in australia on the central coast there is a plot of land the local indiginous people have been fighting to preserve as there are not only sacred carvings and cerimonial sites but thousands of years ago an egiption or greek carvings in the caves some have been closed over to conceal them too. But the hyroglifics are a testament to where they came from the ship wreck to higher ground. they carved these symbols (hundreds) in the rock faces some people i know have also expressed it is a map to show where they have travelled and indications of the observations they made at the time so they could trace their directions they have been. also recorded are rare birds and bush medicines that are being extinct because of the corruption of land being sold through the local government Gosford. thats another story....
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    May 21 2012: In my writing intensive class we always touch upon this subject. We humans are always creating things not just to communicate, but to leave a mark. Something my professor always says, and I agree with, is that, these cave paintings are more of a message, something that says "I was here, this was me."
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    May 21 2012: graffiti. making sense of the world. that the desire to create or express has been in our bones since the dawn..
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    May 20 2012: Well Sid, we'll never know for sure, but the speculation is fun as well as being illuminating about our modern selves.

    Were these caves magical, spiritual transition, labyrinths where boys became men? Or was it just art for art's sake - if so, why in the dark recesses of the caves?

    I like the idea of young men being sent into the dark recesses of these caves to face their fears - connect with their power animal - visualise the hunt - to emerge, reborn as men.
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    May 17 2012: Why primitive? Compare cave art with art of Michelangelo Buonarroti (for example "The Last Judgment"). That is complex. That expresses thoughts, an ability to abstract thinking and feelings . Picasso created an abstract art. Cave art makes me think of drawings of children, but this is my opinion.
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    May 16 2012: 12000 years ago our paleolithic ancestors were emerging from an ice age. Caves must have been No1 on the agenda.
    If you strayed too far you probably did not come back. Time must have been their most precious commodity All of each day spent in finding and eating food and equipping, clothing and defending themselves. They must have been thinking on their feet all of every hour.
    These images we are discussing were not art. They were not paintings and they were not for admirers or to show off. They were fundamental celebrations of survival - footprints in the sand. and probably done from father to son - kind of strategy lessons, part of their growing up - What does a mammoth look like and how do you hunt it? draw your enemy and draw your food each night another trial tomorrow. They made it OK because we are still here. But now we have time to wrap up our expression and ask ourselves ''Is it Art?''
  • May 14 2012: Answer what you know and solve for what you dont know. I am thinking the hands that are often painted on rock walls around the world can tell us more then previously thought but hey im just guessing and dont really have any formal anything. Feel free to use this idea I dont have any smart friends.

    Males and females generally have different finger proportions. In males, digit 2 is shorter than digit 4, but in females digit 2 is the same length or longer than digit 4. The second- to fourth-digit (2D:4D) ratio correlates with numerous sexually dimorphic behavioral and physiological conditions. Although correlational studies suggest that digit ratios reflect prenatal exposure to androgen, the developmental mechanism underlying sexually dimorphic digit development remains unknown. Here we report that the 2D:4D ratio in mice is controlled by the balance of androgen to estrogen signaling during a narrow window of digit development. Androgen receptor (AR) and estrogen receptor α (ER-α) activity is higher in digit 4 than in digit 2. Inactivation of AR decreases growth of digit 4, which causes a higher 2D:4D ratio, whereas inactivation of ER-α increases growth of digit 4, which leads to a lower 2D:4D ratio. We also show that addition of androgen has the same effect as inactivation of ER and that addition of estrogen mimics the reduction of AR. Androgen and estrogen differentially regulate the network of genes that controls chondrocyte proliferation, leading to differential growth of digit 4 in males and females. These studies identify previously undescribed molecular dimorphisms between male and female limb buds and provide experimental evidence that the digit ratio is a lifelong signature of prenatal hormonal exposure. Our results also suggest that the 2D:4D ratio can serve as an indicator of disrupted endocrine signaling during early development, which may aid in the identification of fetal origins of adult diseases.

    Zhengui Zheng and Martin J. Coh1
  • May 13 2012: Cave art (and rock art, hill art, etc) to me is the legacy our fore bearers left to point the way back to our dreaming power. That Stonehenge, Tadrart Acacus, Nyero, Cerne Abbas, the Marree Man, and the Nazca Lines have survived thus long is a testament to our ingenuity and our appreciation for the natural systems observable.

    Above whatever immediate function they served, I imagine these proto-Michelangelos thought "Wouldn't it be great if this lasted ten thousand years? I bet our decedents will be so confused!"
  • May 11 2012: It is just another example of human life. There are still other hunter-gatherers in the world today.
    but such caves are almost unique. This makes me think of Thor Hyerdal , and his belief that there
    are always special adventures and adventurers. I now wantg to see the movie even more after reading your comments. so the director of Fitz Correldo is still doing great things, but the subject is great. Be those
    people. Remember the brain of a Neanderthal is 100 cc bigger than modern man.
  • May 11 2012: I saw the Werner Herzog film and was fascinated by the images and commentary.

    A sense of journey is what comes to my mind. Not a single journey of a single person, but a collective journey of which we are an ongoing part. This art is a marker of a time in that journey to be sure, and it is a depiction of real world images, but signifies an inward realm of existence that unites us around a fire, a story, a loss and so many things.

    Regardless of motive, it transcends the individual artist(s) into the world of shared culture and made us all richer in the process.
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    May 9 2012: I checked again and it blew me away again. 30,000 years ago predates known civilization, all ancient texts and even the last Glacial age. This, they were great artists and the brains are still having a field day with some cool speculation. Holy
  • May 9 2012: I have never seen anything more beautiful...

    Here is my favourite link
    http://www.lascaux.culture.fr/#/fr/00.xml ,
    some helpful tech niceties and soundtrack doesn't hurt, it's quite good, actually.

    Thanks, Sid for this conversation !
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      May 10 2012: What I find so exciting about these works is that they allow access to the minds of people of so long ago.
      Sometimes it's hard to grasp the idea of deep past of 20,000 or 30,000 years ago.
      Even a few centuries is the distant past for many of us.
      Any assumptions about the way those people thought or why they created these works much be approached with humility.
      I agree, Lascaux is one of the finest galleries of all time.
      I have had the privilege of seeing two painted caves in France and have read many books on the subject. One I would recommend is The Nature of Paleolithic Art Dale Guthrie.
      • May 10 2012: Thank you for responding !
        I know about the book you've recommended and have found some more, currently available in the net. But I've shifted reading them for 'not now' later time, as if I am afraid to ruin the feeling...I have a very strange emotional relationship with these paintings...
        I can't yet explain.
        The words that come to mind in attempt to describe what I feel seem adequate, but sound pathetic, really. Humility is just the starting point :)
        I think, this art is an expression of a kind of not-yet-divided consciousness into 'me' and 'not me' and when you watch it you get somehow involved.
        Do you feel anything like that ?
  • May 9 2012: It means being connected in the depths of immemorial times. Who cares the purpose, who cares the cosmic possibilities, we see that and we hear them talk to us, tell us about their fears, their feelings, their minds. Oh hell! Their minds! Can you imagine being there, a small tribe perhaps, a bunch of beings like us, to be among the first to wonder about the whole enchilada. The first to question, to sit around a fire immersed in the vastness of our ignorance, wonderment, and that deep fear that comes from questioning and questioning, of not knowing, of imagining ...
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    May 8 2012: These efforts were the first attempts to internalize the exterior world.
    On me they make a deep impression as being the first art to express life.
    As Mayans lived with maize those people lived with and were dependent on the animals they hunted.
    This relation was the foundation of their existence.
    To reproduce the image of the animal spirit gave power and confidence to anticipate success with the hunt. I'm sure they acted out the kill on those spots too to mentalize the process beforehand.
    By acting this way our ancestors gradually closed reality out of dreamtime and communicated their story to each other as well as to later generations.
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    May 8 2012: For me, cave art is a prototype of art and culture, but I think it is primitive. I'm surprised at "a technology" of painting on rock.
    It's very amazing.
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      May 9 2012: mateusz

      It is very very very far from primitive in execution, conceptualization and expression...and it has enormous spiritual power and expression as well.
    • May 10 2012: I'm also surprised that you would consider it "primitive" A close look at the panel of Lions, for example, shows extraordinary feeling and sensitivity for the subject; there are indications of composition throughout the cave, using buttresses and wall structure to convey sign, all done in dimly (?) lit space. We have no idea what other activities went on (music/bullroarers, ritual??), if any. And, after all, it was Picasso who strove to return his art to the primitive, to more childlike expression. It may have been a prototype of fresco, most definitely "a technology of painting on rock", with rock (ground minerals). We have yet to tap out the form, fortunately.
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      May 15 2012: Explain to me what you mean by "...but I think it is primitive"

      I'm curious... ;-)