Connection, continuity and Cave Art | Daily News

Connection, continuity and Cave Art

History of mankind as being revealed through a variety of discoveries is continuously surprising the contemporary world. Nothing could amaze the post-industrialized world more than the discovery of cave art, made by the human race during the stone-age. It happened in 1879, on the Cantabrian coast of Northern Spain, Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola; a local landowner and amateur archaeologist made the first-ever discovery of prehistoric cave paintings. The superb quality of the paintings astonished the world so much that they were declared fake till they were tested and proven original and authentic in 1902. These discoveries are followed by such cave art across the continents.

There is more than one reason that Cave Art astonishes the art historians and archaeologists. Analyzing, studying and comparing these cave paintings, one finds many parallels, except the timeline. Generally, the timeline is between 40,000 BCE to 7,000 BCE and it has continuity for approximately 25,000 years; for example, the Altamira cave Paintings are dated to 14,000 BCE, Chauvet cave is painted around 30,000BCE and most recently discovered caves in Sulawesi’s Maros-Pangkep region in Indonesia are dated to 37,000BCE.

Cognitive aspect

Surfacing these cave painting has brought forward many questions related to the evolution of a cognitive aspect of humans, creating these artworks in the caves required a great deal of planning and effort. In such climatic conditions and with a struggle to survive with the carnivores and dangerous animals, it needed more than physical effort and planning to imagine and create. There is no doubt, it was not necessary to decorate or paint the cave walls. What could inspire and changed that home sapiens initiated this artistic endeavour? Well much before, the beginning of the creation of the art, materials needed for their creation had to be identified, tested and assembled; then a cave’s terrain had to be negotiated; before a decision had to be made for what image to draw and where to place it. As in most of the cases, cave paintings are created at a distance from the opening of the cave or on a higher wall area- certainly not easily accessible.

Searching, identifying and collecting a variety of colours from far distant sites did not deter the artists to use a range of colours to create naturalistic representations. The most accessible material for marking a cave art was to use the charcoal from the remains of fires.

Often the pigments were extracted from their source and then moulded into crayons; to do this; the raw material was broken down into a powdery form and then washed so that any impurities could be removed. Finally, a binding agent was added to allow the powder to stick together and although organic materials such as blood or water.

Artists have used fingers or hands to smear the liquid onto the wall, but the use of twigs was a frequent way to mark the walls with the pigment. They also made brushes from animal hair or bristle and also used pieces of animal fur as a kind of sponge. A further method they used was to spray the pigment from their mouths after chewing it.

The getting hold and processing of the pigments used for cave paintings involved a significant effort, time and knowledge. The searching, scraping or mining, transporting, and refining of these natural pigments would have been a well-thought task, which is a major distraction from their daily life-sustaining activities. Further, the preparation of manufacturing the pigments was a substantial process to be created and repeated every time.

Expression of creativity

For creating these paintings, the artists would have spent hours or even days inside the caves searching for suitable locations to express their creativity – and a prerequisite to doing this is that they needed some form of lighting. They must have used a piece of burning wood, like a torch. As the torches burnt down they were wiped against the cave walls to remove the leftover charcoal (Chauvet, Brunel Deschamps et al. 1996) – these marks have been found in many caves and have helped in radiocarbon dating. Since the torches did not last too long, so they have invented lamps that used animal fat as a fuel -also used as food– and a wick made of dry leaves or grass.

These stone lamps had a handle at one end and a wider, ground out area, at the other end. Many such lamps have been found in the Cave of Lascaux, many on the ground directly below the paintings (Ruspoli 1987). The weak and flickering light of torches and lamps would also have created effects and would have made the contours and surfaces of the cave come alive with fleeting shadows appearing.

Indeed, many of the cave paintings can be best experienced in this similar lighting and give a far better idea of what these people saw as they ventured into the caves. It must be added that these artists first had to create the stone lamps by grinding out and shaping the pieces of rock; they then had to acquire the fat as the fuel and suitable material to be used as the wick. Forgoing deep into a cave, the amount of fuel and wicks, pigment required would have been substantial.

Timely development

There has been extensive study going on about the styles and content of the cave paintings and their possible development over time, which is notable that there have been no obvious stylistic changes found so far. Further, the entire paintings stand on their own and do not narrate any story– most of them are individual representations, which are for the most of large animals, usually herbivores.

It has also found that in some cases the artists also created surfaces by scraping away the uneven top layer to provide a smoothed out, flat area to draw on, or to make the image stand out (Chauvet, Brunel Deschamps et al. 1996) – they created a kind of organic and in-situ ‘rock canvas’. In some cases, older paintings were removed before newer ones were painted upon them, but many instances new images were painted straight over the top of older ones. There are also examples of stippling effect whereby a series of large red dots form the complete image (Guthrie 2005).

The location of paintings within the caves various and does not have a particular pattern. Some were painted closer to the openings where some light was present whilst others were created deep within the recesses of a cave where there would have been no natural light. The size and shape of the painted cells/chamber also vary.

Some were placed in open areas with easy access, whereas some are located that in some at dangerous ledges which can be reached via narrow, dark and dingy passages.