The evident spells of the enchantress Hyperbole and her sister Analogy. The puzzle of Lascaux. The puzzle is that the real meaning of the paintings in the French cave will never be known until a disturbing question can be answered. And that is whom were they done for?
This most famous of all Upper Paleolithic sites has been called the birthplace of art, the Sistine Chapel of the Stone Age, and the quietus for all our notions of progress. It has been described as a laboratory for making hunting magic, a place for initiating boys into manhood, a shrine for fertility rites, a temple dedicated to metaphysical maleness and femaleness.
Its horses have been compared with those of Apollo and those in T’ang dynasty painting, its deer with those in Scythian metalwork, and its bulls with those of ancient Mesopotamia and Minoan Crete. Its seemingly abstract rectangles, checkerboards, ovals, circles, chevrons, barbs, rods, dots, and dashes have been read as huts, traps, combs, blazons, excrement, wounds, weapons, sexual symbols, and snares for souls.
The “dead man” scene has stirred some of the liveliest speculation, partly because it contains the only identifiable representation of a human being in the entire cave and partly because of the figure’s beaked head and evident state of sexual excitement. The idea that a hunter has been killed by a bison he has wounded, and that the bird-topped stick is a spear thrower, has been deemed too simple an explanation. More typical of the thinking is a theory, based on an assumed parallel with Siberian legends, that the painting represents a fight between two shamans, one of whom has taken the shape of a bison. In this context, the bird on the stick is interpreted as a spirit helper.
The shaman is also a fashionable candidate by analogy for the role of the supposedly typical Lascaux artist. One of the advantages over other analogous personages such as the African Bushman rock painter, is that he exists, or has until fairly recently, among primitives whose cultural patterns supposedly resemble those of the Ice Age hunters; he has been found among the Inuit, the Lapps, and several peoples of northern Siberia. Another of his advantages is that he is usually an artist with a special relationship to animals; he is said to talk their language.
Still, it has to be remembered how little is known about Lascaux. There are only a few firm facts and relatively decent probabilities. Also, the people who created Lascaux were painters, whatever else they may have been. Although painted during the last Ice Age in Europe, the town where caves are found, in Montignac in southwestern France, the climate likely resembled that of the Canadian prairies- bitter winters and pleasant though short summers. The typical Lascaux painter did not inhabit his decorated cave. He was familiar with lamps, needles, and fairly efficient, elegantly ornamented stone tools and weapons. In short, he was not all the nasty lowbrow lowbrow ignoramus described in popular fiction about the Ice Age.
In addition, as far as native endowment goes, the typical Lascaux artist was just as well of as Rembrandt, Picasso, Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst. He had the same clever hands, the same binocular vision, and the same integrating brain. More significantly, he, or perhaps she, had the same symbol making capacity. Of course, they lacked certain modern painting techniques, and could not make use of the aesthetic sophistication and historical awareness, but they had their own methods and in their way, the same academic traditions.
Hence, to refer to Lascaux as the birthplace of art is to trade a high history for a discounted slice of romanticism. Art is forever being born, and its birthplace is the nature of Homo sapiens. Its a wise idea, to avoid being condescending in our judgement of the achievement of the typical Lascaux artist; by either being excessively tender, or in the more subtle way of being condescending is to speculate on his supposedly non-painterly reason for painting. The following is a video from the film Cave of Forgotten Dreams by Werner Herzog on the nearby Chauvet Cave:
These paintings were teaching aids to memorize the stars and the mythology that went with them. A new breed of researchers are trampling the old view of cave art as attempts in sympathetic magic to bewitch the animals of the hunt. Instead, led by the evidence, they favor metaphysical and religious interpretations.
These star pictures are elaborate and well designed. The constellations depicted from one end of the mural to the other are just what you would see if you sat up all night watching the stars from sunset to sunrise. These stars appeared just above the horizon, along the ecliptic, the path the sun and moon follow through the sky. Most of the year, you couldn’t see all these constellations on any one night, due to their axial tilt. But the night of the summer solstice of 15,000 B.C. is the one opportunity to see them all.
It gets better still. The mural wraps around the walls of the cave, with a natural division in the center. The figures on each half of the wrap-around face center, to gaze at one another. Those figures on the east wall represent the constellations that were visible as the sun rose. On the west wall are the constellations that were visible as the sun set. The stars are arranged on the cave wall in just the way you would see them if you were standing outside the cave.
Edge has found this layout is more than good composition, it’s what turns this star picture into an ingenious device to fine-tune your calendar. The middle of the mural, where the two halves meet to face one another, is the same place in the sky where the full moon annually appears, closest yet prior to the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Edge imagines the Magdalenians kept their calendar on track by watching the full moon until finally one midnight it hit that pre-designated spot, and there was no mistaking this day, it was the summer solstice. The mural, when first painted, remained accurate for several centuries. Read More:http://www.atlantisrising.com/backissues/issue10/ar10ancientstars.html