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Paleolithic cave art of Europe


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#1    kmt_sesh

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Posted 18 May 2013 - 03:40 AM

Some weeks ago the Field Museum of Natural History, here in Chicago, opened a new temporary exhibit called Scenes from the Stone Age: The Cave Paintings of Lascaux. It's an exhibit put on by the French government and the Field Museum is the first North American venue to host it. The exhibit runs until September. Those of you who know me will remember that my head is usually stuck in the ancient history of Mediterranean and Near Eastern civilizations, especially pharaonic Egypt, so this was something new to me. Prior to this exhibit's opening, I had spent little time reading about prehistoric Europe. But I'd agreed to help staff the exhibit and give private lectures, so I had my work cut out for me.

Going into the training for Lascaux, I wasn't sure I'd even be motivated. I had tried other exhibits at other times but the interest level was never there. So imagine my own surprise when I fell in love with the Lascaux exhibit from almost the first moment I set foot in there. Before its opening and in the weeks since I've spent considerable time researching this topic and reading everything I can get my hands on. The interest level is still very much there.

Just the same, the topic of Paleolithic Europe and its cave paintings is not my forte, so I thought I would bring it to the forum. I know there are posters here better versed on this topic than I am, so I am always eager to learn from others. I wouldn't be surprised to see some posters bring in very strange ideas, too, but all are welcome.

A question not answered to this day is: Why did Paleolithic man expend so much time and effort to decorate hundreds of caves with phenomenal engravings and paintings? The short answer is, there is no universal agreement in the academic community, and there never can be. Short of a time machine, that is. But it's been enjoyable for me as I work inside the exhibit to solicit answers from visitors, and my favorite answer so far came from an elderly man I met last weekend: graffiti gone wild. Okay, so he was kidding, but the thing with Paleolithic cave art is, one theory is about as good as any other (to a point, of course). In the oodles of reading and studying I've been doing, I've seen for myself how prominent Paleolithic historians give props to other theories but state they're all wrong, while the present historian's theory must of course be correct. So it goes in the world of academia, especially with a subject so distantly placed in time and with such little explanatory evidence.

Lascaux is considered one of the finest painted caves in Europe. It was decorated around 20,000 years ago, in the Solutrean-Magdalenian periods. It's a large cave system with seven primary chambers extending altogether over 800 feet in length. It contains almost 2,000 images of animals and enigmatic symbols, but only one man. He appears in the chamber called the Shaft, which drops almost 20 feet below the level of the rest of the cave system. This mysterious man belongs to one of the most famous images from Paleolithic art:

Posted Image

I drew one visitor's attention to the "bird on a stick" below the man, and asked him what he thought the bird was. The visitor stated that it must be the world's oldest lawn ornament. You've got to love a good sense of humor.

This is how I'll leave my opening post. I'm curious about what other posters have to say about Lascaux and the other painted European caves. I'm eager to learn all I can, and I look forward to your comments and contributions. :tu:

Posted Image
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#2    Sheep Smart

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Posted 18 May 2013 - 03:49 AM

Well those in the pics are just animals and not all that interesting. Its obvious they lived with animals, relied on them, studoed them etc..
I find the ones of 'mythological entities' and also elaborite shapes far more interesting as speculation can run rampant.
Id definitely love to know what influened some of those bizarre figured paintings.

Other life in the universe?, you dare to imply there are entities possibly far greater than us almighty humans, creators of canned ham and reality tv. Nonsense. Absurd.

   The reality that stupidy exists in abundance doesnt bother me. Its the fact that theres still no cure.

#3    kmt_sesh

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Posted 18 May 2013 - 04:03 AM

View PostSheep Smart, on 18 May 2013 - 03:49 AM, said:

Well those in the pics are just animals and not all that interesting. Its obvious they lived with animals, relied on them, studoed them etc..
I find the ones of 'mythological entities' and also elaborite shapes far more interesting as speculation can run rampant.
Id definitely love to know what influened some of those bizarre figured paintings.

Well, in the Hall of the Bulls in Lascaux there is a very odd animal:

Posted Image

Someone decades ago, who evidently was not very observant, nicknamed it the "Unicorn" and oddly the name stuck. But what is it? A pair of French historians once described it as "...the body of a rhinoceros, the withers of a bear or bison, the head and spots of a big cat, the tail of a horse." I asked a kid in the exhibit what he thought it was, and he replied, "It's probably a mistake." I admit to some laughter at his answer. We can't know what this creature is supposed to represent, but it certainly is not an animal that ever existed. Nor is it a mistake. It meant something to the person who painted it 20,000 years ago, but it's meaning is lost to us. Possible explanations bring us into the realm of shamanism, which is a popular modern theory for the cave paintings.

I disagree that the animals are not interesting. I confess to feeling much the same until I started studying Paleolithic cave art and saw the exhibit's precise recreations for myself. This constitutes highly sophisticated artwork, much of which displays masterful execution of perspective and movement, as well as incredibly realistic shading and color usage. And from 20,000 years ago, no less. It takes highly trained, experienced artists to recreate the figures today.

Posted Image
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#4    Sheep Smart

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Posted 18 May 2013 - 04:30 AM

Could be a steer maybe even an extinct form. These are all amazing though given the age ..

Other life in the universe?, you dare to imply there are entities possibly far greater than us almighty humans, creators of canned ham and reality tv. Nonsense. Absurd.

   The reality that stupidy exists in abundance doesnt bother me. Its the fact that theres still no cure.

#5    redhen

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Posted 18 May 2013 - 05:12 AM

A must see documentary by Werner Herzog; Cave of Forgotten Dreams. This version I found has Spanish subtitles but it's not that distracting. If anyone has a better version please feel free to post it.




#6    Tutankhaten-pasheri

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Posted 18 May 2013 - 09:47 AM

Not wanting to seem trivial or suggesting for one moment that Native American Indians are "Cavemen". I have been to Canada and met Crows and was very impressed with them as a people. But here we see a culture that has similar art. Some of it simply tells a story of an event, some is shamanistic. What can they tell us of their reasons for some of their shamanistic art? There may well be a seperation in time and place, but we are still human and I think it not so fantastical to think that what may, or may not, have been similar lifestyles and ways of expressing religious beliefs, may have similar explanations. Not scientific, and I know the expression "The past is another country", yet without timemachine we can only look at the past through modern eyes and see what is similar to begin to try to understand.

Edited by Tutankhaten-pasheri, 18 May 2013 - 10:04 AM.


#7    Abramelin

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Posted 18 May 2013 - 10:52 AM

View PostSheep Smart, on 18 May 2013 - 03:49 AM, said:

Well those in the pics are just animals and not all that interesting. Its obvious they lived with animals, relied on them, studied them etc..
I find the ones of 'mythological entities' and also elaborite shapes far more interesting as speculation can run rampant.
Id definitely love to know what influened some of those bizarre figured paintings.

It's the "etc" that's interesting.....just look at the guy on the ground and the bison next to him:

Posted Image

:w00t:

.

Edited by Abramelin, 18 May 2013 - 10:53 AM.


#8    third_eye

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Posted 18 May 2013 - 10:59 AM

View Postkmt_sesh, on 18 May 2013 - 03:40 AM, said:


~snip

This is how I'll leave my opening post. I'm curious about what other posters have to say about Lascaux and the other painted European caves. I'm eager to learn all I can, and I look forward to your comments and contributions. :tu:

jealous //

I means it boss ... I'm seething mad and red with jealous swell ... great post and thread boss .... wished I could be there ... or at the caves itself

Quote

' ... life and death carry on as they always have ~ and always will, only the dreamer is gone ~ behind the flow of imagination, beyond any effort to be still
dancing in the ebb and flow of attention, more present than the breath, I find the origins of my illusions, only the dreamer is gone ~ the dream never ends
'

GIFTS WITH NO GIVER - a love affair with truth ~ Poems by Nirmala

third_eye ' s cavern ~ bring own beer


#9    PersonFromPorlock

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Posted 18 May 2013 - 01:21 PM

View Postkmt_sesh, on 18 May 2013 - 04:03 AM, said:

This constitutes highly sophisticated artwork, much of which displays masterful execution of perspective and movement, as well as incredibly realistic shading and color usage. And from 20,000 years ago, no less. It takes highly trained, experienced artists to recreate the figures today.

Which brings up something that's always bothered me: where did the admittedly sophisticated artists develop their sophistication? Are there cave paintings we don't see because the artists were learning their trade when they painted them and they simply aren't very interesting, or is it all pretty high-grade? If the latter, then how did the artists become skilled?


#10    Irna

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Posted 18 May 2013 - 02:01 PM

For those who could not see the exhibit, here is a virtual visit of Lascaux: http://www.lascaux.c.../#/fr/02_00.xml

You can also virtually visit the Chauvet Cave: http://www.culture.g...nat/chauvet/fr/ ; the Cave of Gargas: http://www.numerigro...r-gargas_fr.htm ; the Cave of Pech Merle: http://www.pechmerle.com/visite.html . Here http://www.paca.cult...uer/present.htm is also a gallery of Cosquer Cave.

Edited by Irna, 18 May 2013 - 02:01 PM.


#11    laver

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Posted 18 May 2013 - 03:03 PM

The principles of evolution and natural selection, right or wrong, might tell us that there must have been some 'advantage' in the creation of this amazing artwork which was of benefit to survival or reproduction. So was it done to impress members of the opposite sex.... sort of..... 'come and look at my etchings in my cave'. They must have been very impressive in their time and an indication that the artist had creative genes or skills which other members of the group might not have had and so attractive  as a partner.

It is easy to see parallels to this even today where choice of partner is affected by creative talents. Good hunters would be attractive to the opposite sex as providers of food but they might not have the talents that appealed in the contests to find a mate or mates. In the animal world good hunters would have and do have reproductive advantage in numbers or quality of mates. But in humans with our much more sophisticated brains food is not the end of the story and many other factors come into play when females and males are attracted to someone of the opposite sex. Art and music may have been very important factors in this from very early times.

It is worth noteing that the image of the 'caveman' with his club out to get himself a woman by force may have been very far from the truth and that may have been because the deity in these early times was the Goddess with her feminine intuition and freedom of choice of partner.


#12    third_eye

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Posted 18 May 2013 - 04:14 PM

View PostPersonFromPorlock, on 18 May 2013 - 01:21 PM, said:

Which brings up something that's always bothered me: where did the admittedly sophisticated artists develop their sophistication? Are there cave paintings we don't see because the artists were learning their trade when they painted them and they simply aren't very interesting, or is it all pretty high-grade? If the latter, then how did the artists become skilled?

Hiya PFP, if I may .....

The sophistication is something we recognise today given our background and stage of evolution, these paintings weren't painted towards a purpose of sophistication in the sense of the word that we understand it today. There is not a 'school' of arts in the sense of 'what art means' to us today.

The skills exhibited here is all the more overwhelming to us today being that our 'consciousness' that so many takes for granted today is not yet 'evident' as a civilisation of human endeavor towards no higher a purpose other than a 'tradition' of symbolism continued for tens of thousands of years.

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For “the multitude” we may understand “the preliterate.” They “lose
themselves and wander amid the multiplicities of multifarious things,”

declared Plato, looking back on the oral culture that still surrounded him.
They “have no vivid pattern in their souls.”
And what vivid pattern was that? Havelock focused on the process of
converting, mentally, from a “prose of narrative” to a “prose of ideas”;
organizing experience in terms of categories rather than events; embracing
the discipline of abstraction. He had a word in mind for this process, and
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excerpt : Chapter 2 | THE PERSISTENCE OF THE WORD (There Is No Dictionary in the Mind)


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The fundamental problem of communication is that of reproducing at
one point either exactly or approximately a message selected at another
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from : Attached File  Clip.jpg   23.09K   8 downloads

Quote

' ... life and death carry on as they always have ~ and always will, only the dreamer is gone ~ behind the flow of imagination, beyond any effort to be still
dancing in the ebb and flow of attention, more present than the breath, I find the origins of my illusions, only the dreamer is gone ~ the dream never ends
'

GIFTS WITH NO GIVER - a love affair with truth ~ Poems by Nirmala

third_eye ' s cavern ~ bring own beer


#13    kmt_sesh

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Posted 19 May 2013 - 04:56 AM

View PostTutankhaten-pasheri, on 18 May 2013 - 09:47 AM, said:

Not wanting to seem trivial or suggesting for one moment that Native American Indians are "Cavemen". I have been to Canada and met Crows and was very impressed with them as a people. But here we see a culture that has similar art. Some of it simply tells a story of an event, some is shamanistic. What can they tell us of their reasons for some of their shamanistic art? There may well be a seperation in time and place, but we are still human and I think it not so fantastical to think that what may, or may not, have been similar lifestyles and ways of expressing religious beliefs, may have similar explanations. Not scientific, and I know the expression "The past is another country", yet without timemachine we can only look at the past through modern eyes and see what is similar to begin to try to understand.

What you're describing is ethnoarchaeology, and it's been employed quite a lot with the cave art. One book I read is called The Mind in the Cave, by David Lewis-Williams, and he turns to ethnoarchaeology a lot in his own research. He cites possible parallels in tribal peoples from both South Africa and North America. Lewis-Williams's thrust is altered states of consciousness in shamanistic ritual, which extends to petroglyphs and other "rock art" the world over. While I respectfully think Lewis-Williams is somewhat overly confident in his conclusions, I think he and others who use such case studies are on to something.

Ethnoarchaeology is an extremely important field of study, but it has its limits. Like you said, we can't be sure if the same thing applies to the Paleolithic art of Europe; too much time separates us from them. With certainty, however, this cave art is not "art for the sake of art," and I would concur with some of the researchers I've read who stress a shamanistic influence behind much if not all of the cave art.

That some of the cave paintings tell a story is a common theory, but nevertheless no longer widely held. Subsequent archaeological excavations and research have provided more answers, such as the negation of sympathetic magic—another common practice in shamanism. It was long thought that the cave painters might paint a bison or arochs on the cave wall so that it would be fixed to the physical landscape, and thus ready for the Paleolithic people to go out and hunt. It's now known to be more than likely incorrect, however. Excavations of Paleolithic sites of inhabitation—such as in the Vezere River Valley where Lacaux is located—have shown that around 90% of animal bones from consumed animals came from stags.

View PostAbramelin, on 18 May 2013 - 10:52 AM, said:

It's the "etc" that's interesting.....just look at the guy on the ground and the bison next to him:

Posted Image

:w00t:

.

Oh, Abe, you're so naughty. That the human figure is...um...aroused has puzzled many people, experts included. It's unlikely he was just happy to see the bison. If you note, the bison's head is inclined and its horns thrust forward, as though it is in the act of goring the man. What you don't see in the image is the rear quarters of the bison, so let me post a more complete image:

Posted Image

There is a spear piercing through the animal, and its guts are spilling out. One woman I met in the exhibit absolutely insisted that big bulge hanging down must be the animal's scrotum, and nothing I said would change her mind. She wanted it to be the animal's scrotum.

It's a bizarre scene through and through. The first Paleolithic expert to study the scene, a French priest name Henri Breuil, was convinced this scene represented an historical event that some cave painter fixed to the wall of the Shaft 20,000 years ago, so he commenced to digging into the floor below the scene in full expectation of finding a human skeleton. He found nothing. To this day, none of the 340-plus painted caves in southwest France and northeast Spain have evidenced a single human burial, although the occasional engraved cliff face has.

In my reply to Atentutankh above I mentioned an author named David Lewis-Williams, and in his book this Paleolithic historian described how shamans sometimes can produce erections when in their altered states of consciousness.

I feel like I'm missing out on something here. :w00t:

Posted Image
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#14    kmt_sesh

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Posted 19 May 2013 - 05:03 AM

View Postredhen, on 18 May 2013 - 05:12 AM, said:

A must see documentary by Werner Herzog; Cave of Forgotten Dreams. This version I found has Spanish subtitles but it's not that distracting. If anyone has a better version please feel free to post it.

>>Snip<<

An absolutely wonderful film. A friend told me about it and I streamed it through Netflix. The film is about an hour and a half long and I really enjoyed it. Chauvet is the cave in the documentary and it was found only in 1994. At 37,000 years BP, it's one of the oldest painted caves in Europe. It's a beautiful cave and its artwork, while not quite on the level of Lascaux, is nonetheless phenomenal.

But unlike Lascaux, the French did the right thing when Chauvet was discovered. They immediately closed it. No tourist has ever set foot in there. Let's hope it stays that way.

I recommend this film to anyone with even a passing interest in the subject. One of my favorite parts is a man who made a flute out of bone in the same manner that Paleolithic people did, and played it for the camera. It sounds much like a Native American flute. One of the artifacts on display in our exhibit is a fragment of bone flute, so it brings home how those ancient people were every bit as human as we are.

View Postthird_eye, on 18 May 2013 - 10:59 AM, said:

jealous //

I means it boss ... I'm seething mad and red with jealous swell ... great post and thread boss .... wished I could be there ... or at the caves itself

No reason to be jealous, third_eye. Just hop on a plane and come visit Chicago!

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#15    Frank Merton

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Posted 19 May 2013 - 05:39 AM

Someone dead is going to get an erection.  Maybe that is all that this represents -- he is dead already.





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