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The Cave of Lascaux and Cave Art

Cave paintings might possibly be the oldest known form of communication that exists today. Cave paintings date back to a period of time called the Paleolithic Age. The Paleolithic Age took place from 40,000 to 10,000 B. C. Prehistoric Age is divided into three parts: Paleolithic being the earliest, Mesolithic being the middle at 10,000 B. C. and Neolithic Age being the latest at 8,000 B. C. During the Paleolithic Age it is believed that the cave paintings at Lascaux, France were created. Lascaux, is located in the south central, western corner of France.

In 1940 this cave was believed to be found by a group of four boys from Montignac, France and a dog while out walking through the woods. Allegedly the dog fell into the cave and would not answer the owners call. The boys came up to what appeared to be a dark rock but as they got closer they realized they was not the case, it was a cave. The boys entered in an attempt to find the dog and discovered one of the most important cave paintings now known to man. Lascaux quickly became a heavy tourist spot and was forced to be closed in 1963 due to the damage being caused by human beings.

In Lascaux this elegant cave painting is comprised of almost six hundred figures of different animals. The cave art at Lascaux is comprised of horses, bison, cattle and hinds as suggested by the Columbia Encyclopedia in its article Paleolithic Art. It is suggested that the art “may have a ritual significance to hunting”. (Columbia) These animal paintings in the cave vary in size but the bulls specifically range from thirteen to sixteen feet long. It is believed that these particular cave works were created sometime around 13,000 B. C. d have remained, for the most part, completely intact.

This date is only hypothetical being that the process of dating these cave paintings is slightly inaccurate and limited. As talked about on the Lascaux Cave Official Website “the range of methods and tools used to date the cave art is somewhat limited, partly because the figures are not in a position favorable to stratigraphic dating most of the time and also because of the nature of the material used”. (Lascaux 11/25/04) Another identical method uses the pigment, which was found on the ground, to date these painting.

The Lascaux Cave Official Website suggests that while these paintings were being created pigment fell from the device in which they used to paint. This particular dating method uses radiocarbon dating, however typing of Lascauxs’ pigments suggests the material used in this cave was iron or mangamese and metal oxides which are very hard to date using either of the above methods. According to Nature Magazine “The chronology of European prehistoric cave paintings has been loosely based on the style of fauna depicted or on dated remains left behind by cave occupants, but has become more precise with radiocarbon dating on the charcoal pigments”.

Valladas, et al 479) This suggests that the men completing these works left things behind which the archaeologists are able to date. Cave paintings of this time were known to be created using a mixture of red and yellow ochre, haematite, manganese oxide and charcoal. The colors these men used were red, brown, blue, purple, yellow and black. Animal fat and plant sap were used, and worked quite well, in producing a binding and preservation agent for these cave works.

In these cave lighting was an issue because the cave were often extremely dark and one would have not had ample light to see. It is suggested in the internet source Art: A new History, by Paul Johnson that “both lamps and torch light” were used. (Johnson) Torch lights and lamps were also both effective in burning mass amounts of animal fat which was then used as a binding agent for the paintings. Typically most cave paintings being found inside the cave suggests that the people that were creating these images intended for these creations to be preserved form many years to come.

In some of these caves the images portrayed are up to twenty feet off of the ground, which then suggests that men had to construct some sort of scaffolding in order to reach the location in which they intended to paint also. The Columbia Encyclopedia suggests that the painting style, which is the Franco-Cantrabrian, uses a “variety of techniques, including painting with fingers, sticks and pads of fur or moss; daubing; dotting; sketching with colored materials and charcoal; and spray painting through hollow bone or by mouth”. (Columbia)

Most caves these days are sealed to the public because of the threat of damage being caused to the work. In the recent past caves have been closed because of the damage caused by light and by the human breath. Humans exhale carbon dioxide and this is a corrosive chemical to these fragile cave paintings. According to Johnson and Art: A new History, “at the end of the twentieth century, there were two hundred and seventy-seven agreed examples of cave art in Europe, one hundred forty-two in France, one hundred eight in Spain, twenty-one in Italy, two in Portugal, two in Germany and two in the Balkans”.

Johnson) This suggests the scale in which these paintings were created and the importance in which the hunting ritual they took place. The discoveries of this student have been vast and eye opening to the complexity of these works by the people of this time. This student had little knowledge of this topic before deciding to research it. This student has found this to topic to be interesting and benefiting. This student was able to gain knowledge and understanding of how these prehistoric artists painted by using a variety of tools to create their art.

This student was able to gain a higher understanding of what they painted, for instance the animals, bulls, bison, horses, etc. This student was also able to gain a higher understanding of the ritual behind these cave paintings in that they are designed to bring a profitable hunt. This student has gained a great deal of information in dealing with the different ways, or lack of ways, of dating these paintings. In researching this topic the student learned of the three prehistoric eras and what significance each had to later civilization.

This student also learned of the possibility of a scaffolding and/or complex form that was designed to allow a person to paint on the upper wall or ceiling of a cave. This student also found it very interesting how the human body can break down these paintings and how it is hard for even scholars to gain entrance to these places. I think that these cave paintings paved the way for future art with ideas of ritual, creativity, preservation and expression.

I feel that the people of this time were extremely intelligent in the fact that they were able to grasp some idea of preservation so these paintings could be viewed for years to come. I also feel that these people showed intelligence in a supreme being. If indeed these paintings are created as a ritual for their hunt then maybe they believed that if they perform this ritual this supreme being will provide them with a prosperous hunt. This topic I found very interesting and informative. Studying this topic really brought light to the existence of art even in the prehistoric culture.

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