Cave Art and Paintings and Their Meaning
Paintings are one of the earliest discovered traces of art, and people first found them on the relics of the Aurignacian time period. Those paintings were drawn on the cave walls and ceilings, probably 32,000 years ago. There are a lot of conjectures about the meaning of cave paintings, some people believe that those pictures are used to communicate with others, but others ascribe a kind of magic religion or ceremonial purpose. One of the most common themes in cave painting was the painting of animals, specifically deer, horses, and bison. The most famous of these cave paintings comes from Spain and South France, and their pictures show a really high degree of skills. The age of cave painting in Africa is older than 28,000 years, and people drew those pictures on the slabs of stone. During at least 30,000 years ago, and even 60,000 years ago, people have already painted pictures on the walls of rock in the early Australia. In Australia, people engraved the silhouette of animals firstly, and then used yellow ochre, charcoal and other mineral substances to pigment it. Those pictures look very elegant, and help us to admire those primitive people’s wisdom.
Therefore, some famous cave painting in Europe, Africa, and Australia are the most mentioned with their own culture, legend and characters. Of course, some opinions are still controversial because different people have different conjectures, but those mysteries will be cleared one day as more and more evidence is discovered. The cave paintings of Europe are interesting because of their special meaning. Altamira in Northern Spain, Lascaux and Chauvet in French are the typical representatives for European cave painting. Those paintings were drawn before 35,000 years. They have three common characteristics for locations: “(1) in obviously inhabited rock shelters and cave entrances; (2) in galleries immediately off the inhabited areas of caves; and (3) in the inner reaches of caves, whose difficulty of access has been interpreted by some as a sign that magical-religious activities were performed there” (Cave Art in Europe).The cave of Altamira was discovered in 1879 and it is a really dark cave so people have to ignite animal fat for lighting and work inside. “Paintings primarily focus on bison, and also have horse, deer, and wild boar portrayed, but no landscape” (Marchello 15). The colors of the cave paintings are multiple because primitive people used the natural earth pigments, for example, ochre and zinc oxides. However, those pictures are mostly animals, and not any ornament, background and people images appear around those paintings. Therefore, some specialists infer that primitive people believed that humans in the image would cause death or bad fortune.
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On the other hand, because some pictures shows animals with wounds by spears, people believed that the cave painting shows how to improve hunting skills. However, only a few pictures show that animals are being attacked, so some people think that the painting represents the idea of gaining more food. Lascaux and Chauvet’s cave art in France show more bovines and horses. From the research, people found clearly that those painters preferred more meat and hides, so big meatier wild animals were popular in the cave paintings. Moreover, those paintings also show that painters may fear those large animals because of their speed and natural weapons. Therefore, “the paintings are consistent with the idea that the art is related to the importance of hunting in the economy of Upper Paleolithic people” (Cave Art in Europe). Europe’s cave paintings lets modern people get to know the real size and appearance of some wild animals during the Paleolithic period. It is a symbol that shows how humans’ civilization and intelligence quotient developed during the Aurignacian time period. Another area that shows these animal cave paintins is Africa that there are three periods about the cave painting like Bubalus, Cattle and Horse. The end of the sixth to the mid fourth millennium BC was the period of Bubalus, and the weather was totally different compared to the modern Saharan. Former Saharan was a rich resource of wild flora and fauna, lush plants, even in the poor place of South Africa, and there were also a variety of kinds of animals. During the period of Bubalus, the cave painting mainly shows that animals are going extinct in that area. “The animals are naturalistic and often on a large scale. Men are armed with clubs, throwing sticks, axes and bows, but never spears” (The Archaic Mode of Production: Archaic Northern Africa). The Cattle period begins from the mid-4th to mid-2nd millennium BC. The cave painting mainly shows the naturalistic animals, herdsmen and cattle, which are displayed. “The Cattle Period reflects a fully pastoral economy, and it is associated with pottery, polished stone axes, grindstones, arrowheads and the bones of domesticated cattle, sheep and goats” (Saharan rock art). From ca 1200 BC, the period of the Horse begins. In the period of the Horse, there are still three little periods that are subdivided into a Chariot, Horseman and Horse-and-Camel. Camel is the special one that appears at that time, and from the late period of Tassili art.
The cave painting of the Horse period is smaller than the Cattle period, but highly schematic. Humans are represented by a double triangle during the period. “Consequently, investigation of Saharan rock art is slowly emerging as a self-contained subfield of prehistoric research with its own agenda, one that may seem appropriate but that is only loosely connected to more material culture-oriented studies of past societies” (Holl 3). Lastly, Cave painting in Australia is the painting center around the Oceania. There are more than ten thousand pieces of rock art that are discovered, so this is the richest and most colorful place for cave painting. Aboriginal people used different colors like red, yellow, black and blue to describe some heroes in their legends. The cave paintings of Australia represent the religion of Aboriginal religious belief. People imagined that ancestral beings were present on the rock walls in mythical times. “Under this system of belief, human beings did not paint these images but were produced by ancient ancestors settling into the cave walls, while their spirits may have travelled on” (Allan). Therefore, the cave painting is sacred and serious for the Aboriginal people in Australia. Another very famous and interesting thing is that scientists found the picture of Thylacoleo on the cave painting. Thylacoleo is a kind of fierce and cruel animal that lived in Australia, but it has already become extinct. The finding of the thylacoleo’s picture provided a lot of information for scientists, and helped them analyze the life-forms and when they appeared on the world. The difference between the cave painting in Australia and other places is it provides more value in other realms except for archaeology. In conclusion, cave painting is a very important subject worth studying. The information of cave painting connects the research of local history, culture and religion.
From the term report, I provide some general ideas about the research of cave painting in Europe, Africa, and Australia. All of these loctions have their own characterization so we can infer about people’s lives and thinking at that time. Our ancestors used their wisdom to leave great cultural heritage. However, there are also a lot of guesses for the cave paintings; some new ideas and new discoveries will become known around the world. These discoveries record the development of humans from the past. However, as our environment and artificial world affect the earth, those cave paintings obtain varying degrees of damage. The local government should focus on this rich heritage of cave paintings.
The Archaic Mode of Production: Archaic Northern Africa, Starting on 24 May 2008,
Holl Augustin, Saharan rock art: archaeology of Tassilian pastoralist iconography, Publication date: April 2004,
Cave Art in Europe, 2011-11-20 14:38:01,< http://waiyu.kaoshibaike.com/tuofu/tuofu/ Shiti/zhenti/201111/499996.html>
Allan Susan, A major discovery of Aboriginal cave paintings in Australia, 5 August 2003, World Socialist Website,< http://www.wsws.org/articles/2003/aug2003/rock- a05.shtml>