Thursday, October 14, 2010
Was It Cave Art?
Way back in the year 1880, some intrepid hikers roaming around the hills near Altamira, Spain came upon an opening to a cave. They did what intrepid hikers do: they lit some torches and went on in. Rather far in, actually, until their flickering torches lit up a fantastical scene on the rock walls that surrounded them. Our intrepid group had stumbled into a giant art gallery. The walls had amazingly beautiful paintings of animals done in clear, bold color. Some animals were easily recognizable, while others were not. All were painted in a fresh and lively realism, using the very texture of the rock wall itself to add a level of three dimensionality to the beasts. Our friends the hikers were the first, but not the last to ask, "who did this beautiful art?" Followed by, "And do I have to pay gallery prices?"
Scientists have since come to the conclusion that the paintings were over 10 to 15 thousand years old. Think about that. That is almost older than the ages of the Rolling Stones combined! At first, no one believed that ancient man could have produced such stunning visual works, but after finding several more caves bearing similar paintings, the proof was in. Apparently, Man has been making art for a long time. Then came the question, "what were these painted for?" The scientists surmised they may have been painted for some religious ceremony. By the way, why is it that whenever science has no clue about an old object or site (Stonehenge) they automatically assign it a religious meaning? I can imagine some future archaeologist ten thousand years from now unearthing one of our modern toilets and exclaiming, "Ah! Here is the alter the ancients used to pray to the porcelain god!" Maybe the site was used as a classroom. Imagine about twenty young, pencil necked, pimply Cro-Magnons sitting down and facing a big, gruff, Drill Sargent of an elder Cro-Magnon who says something like, "Listen up! This here is a Cave Bear, and is to be avoided at all costs! If he views you as either a meal or a mate, it could RUIN YOUR DAY!"
OK, probably not. But what if early man was more like us than we think. By that I mean, we modern humans like to relax and be entertained, don't we? We invented TV. We go to the movies. We listen to music. And we go to museums to look at art. Suppose for a second that just maybe those ancient paintings were nothing more than a Cro-Magnon version of a theater or Art Gallery. Purely for entertainment value. Just to please the eye. Would it make their achievement any less remarkable? Wouldn't it make those ancient Cro-Magnons a little more like us? Except that as a tribe they sat around the fire and viewed art while we sit around the TV and wonder who is gonna get voted out of the tribe.