Marja-Leena Rathje
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Bison from the End Chamber of Chauvet Cave - from Bradshaw Foundation

This is fascinating news:

Prehistoric cave artists used cartoon-like techniques to give the impression that their images were moving across cave walls, two French researchers have suggested. A new study of cave art across France - in which animals appear to have multiple limbs, heads and tails - has found that the paintings are actually primitive attempts at animation. When the images are viewed under the unsteady light of flickering flames the images can appear to move as the animals they represent do, the research claims.

Mr Azéma, after 20 years researching Stone Age animation techniques, has identified 53 paintings in 12 French caves which superimpose two or more images to apparently represent movement.

More at Daily Mail, UK. The animations created by archaeologist Marc Azéma show how the paintings might look to our eye in the flickering fires in those very ancient caves.

This study makes me recall Werner Herzog's film Cave of Forgotten Dreams. (The image above is reposted from that blog entry but is not necessarily identified by M. Azéma as an example.) Also my beloved Earth's Children series of books by Jean M. Auel. Her last book especially describes vividly scenes of paintings being created in the caves, as well as the sacred rituals taking place in them in flickering firelight and in darkness.

Kiitos, thanks to Finnish author and blog friend Anna Amnell for her post on this, one of my favourite themes on this blog. As Anna said, the more we learn about these early humans, the more we are amazed by their intelligence and creativity.

Marja-Leena | 26/09/2012 | 10 comments
themes: Books, Films, Rock Art & Archaeology


I didn't get to see Cave of Forgotten Dreams in 3D but it was marvelous on blu-ray. It makes much sense that the cave art inspired deep feelings of reverence for the living world and that the animals would appear to move. Maybe it's just a fancy but sometimes it seems that our very distant ancestors were much wiser than many of us.

I enjoyed reading those Jean Auel books too.

Susan, I'd love to revisit the film on DVD if it's available for it was just great. I would agree that wisdom was another characteristic of the ancients. Glad to know you liked Auel's books too. Did you know she is part Finnish?

Years ago I toured many of the caves that were still open to visitors... some have since closed their doors because of the fragility of the sites... and I came away with my head spinning over the skill of the animal drawings. These people crawled deep into the darkness and then drew animals that evidence such spirit and anatomical understanding, and moreover all without recourse to cameras or even sketchbooks stuffed with studies. They had the greatest artistry, and everything that was drawn must have been carried in their heads. They were huntsmen... or came from hunting people... and the drawings spring from honed observational skills that indicate long experience of following wild herds.

years ago we managed to get our hands on the book, which was published quite soon after they discovered the cave. One of our friends had the book, but we didn't get it, in the first place, the book was very expensive.

But it is in English. I did notice about the movie, and saw already in the book the fine drawings. I think it is very good that it is closed as people breathing would already harm them.

Now they're looking into the timing more closely and the speculation is that they could've been Homo Neandertalis who had the site, and maybe some other sites too. And they are looking if they could find some remnant of DNA in some fingerprint or something like that. I don't know when the final results come.

A lot can be seen by looking into the style of drawing.

Clive, how very fortunate you were to be able to visit the caves and see the work. You describe it powerfully, thanks for sharing how very skilled and artistic these peoples' work is.

Marjatta, I've seen the book too. Seeing the film is worth it if you have the opportunity. As Susan wrote, it is out on blu-ray (DVD). Yes, research seems to be pointing to these people possibly being Neanderthals. We already know that many of us have some of their genes- I think it is thrilling.

Wow. That is absolutely extraordinary! x

Elisa, it really is, isn't it?!

Oh, that's interesting. And I loved the Herzog film... think I'd like to watch it again.

ML - I think you might enjoy Naomi Mitcheson's late work 'Early in Orcadia'. It's not much about neolithic art in particular, but is a really interesting and compelling fictional reconstruction of how the inhabitants of Skara Brae in the Orkney Islands may have lived, based on her extensive knowledge and interest in the archaelogical excavations there. I find it's one of the books that has stayed with me more than most over the years. If you can't get a copy I'll happily send you mine for a long term lend!

Marly, yes, it sure is. I'm going to hunt for a DVD of that film. I rarely buy them but that one is a keeper.

Lucy, that book does sound interesting, right up my alley! I had a quick look for it online, first at our local library without luck but did find used copies available here and there. Thanks so much for the suggestion and offer of a loan - will let you know how the hunt goes.