2007-01-11: The Cave Painters

The Cave Painters

Probing the Mysteries of the World’s First Artists (2006)

by Gregory Curtis (1944-)

This book and another new book on the same subject were reviewed together, somewhere. The other seemed more interesting from the reviews, but this one was available at the library.

The book has a lot of history of the probing mentioned in the subtitle, but makes no new hypotheses and draws no conclusions.

There are a few interesting tidbits. At Lascaux, excavations found remains of habitation, including bones from meals and broken tools. The bones indicate a diet of nearly 100% reindeer; however the painting in Lascaux contain no reindeer. This would appear to argue against the paintings as hunting magic, at least of a routine sort. In some places, great compositions adorn galleries as if for the benefit of a community; at other places, paintings or engravings are tucked away in places only reachable by one person at a time, or only with great effort and special tools.

Curtis interviewed many paleontologists and other experts, and some of them knew the earliest discoverers of the caves. It is really a quite young field, and the material to work with is still being discovered. While reading, I wondered how many paintings might have been made outdoors, lost to 20,000 years of weathering.

The subject is interesting, and the sample pictures are nice to look at, but the book is unsatisfying.


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