Chauvet HorsesCredit: WikipediaThe ice age included many climate changes.Mainly the melting image comes to mind which has allowed for some great cave painting discoveries. The temperatures rose, melting ice for hundreds of years. Thawing land gave way to plant life change and the spread of grassland to forest growth. This change affected animals to move in search of food, and of course the Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons (early modern humans) who lived during the ice age to follow the animals, for food.

Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons
The Neanderthals are named after the Neander Valley in Germany. Fossils from these people were first discovered there. The early modern humans existed at the same time as the Nenderthals, yet we don’t know if they ever met. They tended to use the same stone products (tools), and use fire to cook and warm themselves.

Sometime the Cro-Magnons advanced to becoming engravers, painters, drawers, artists - even makers of flutes, rattles and drums. The Neanderthals didn’t quite cut the grade and disappeared before making the better tools to survive easier, and longer. The early moderns found new uses for using fire such as making kilns and firing clay figures. The artist evolution began with the early moderns.

Chauvet Cave Paintings
Three explorers discovered a cave in France that has over 300 cave drawings pictures of cave animals like the woolly rhinos, mammoths, horses, wild cattle, bears, and a few human figures too. One of the discoverers name is Jean-Marie Chauvet, thus the cave was named after him.

The Chauvet cave is the oldest and largest discovered. It shows that art was happening in the ice age, not just the stone age, and the visual talk was about the animals mostly. Theories abound about the possible meanings of the various cave drawings of images that are recognizable - many as extinct animals.

Lascaux Cave PaintingsLascaux AurochsCredit: Wikipedia
Lascaux is the very famous cave in France that was unfortunately damaged by the countless visitors who managed to see it. Although it is now closed to visitors, there are some important historical facts gleamed from the discovery of this cave. First, because of the damage done merely by many people breathing in the cave (the atmosphere was changed - water vapor condensation and molds growing), the French government learned that Chauvet must be preserved, so it too is being preserved. Some small groups of scientists are studying it, but no major flocks of tourists.

In Lascaux there are ceiling cave paintings. So, the painters had to have built and used a scaffold and ladder to paint. This means that 17,000 years ago art was intentionally being created. I liken the cave work to a visual talk (now we have skype!), a form of communication for any number of reasons.

Possible Meanings of the Cave Art
Remember that caves are dark, damp, and cold. Just to draw in a cave took planning and work time. Light was needed, maybe clearing the cave, painting utensils (crushed twigs or animal hair brushes) needed to be ready, paint (charcoal for drawing or ground plant minerals mixed with cave water) prepared, and some intention for creating the cave drawings.

Here are some ideas of the why the art was done:

  • To continue some spiritual belief with animals as guides to the spirit world, or an appeal for help from them.
  • To pass on a visual talk archive of memories from generation to generation.
  • To ceremonialize the hunt.
  • To create a passage from youth to elder via the history in the caves. Maybe certain people had to make their mark, so to speak.

Maybe the visual talk once performed in the caves is what the youth now do tagging the cement walls in cities. It would be fun to see into the future as to the discoveries of the tagging, and the possible meanings the futurists think of the 21st century human art.

photos - Aurochs on cave in Lascaux
              Chauvet horses - both from Wikipedia