Most Cave Art The Work Of Teens Not Shamans

February 16, 2006

Long accustomed to lifting mammoth bones from mudbanks and museum shelves and making sketches from cave art to gather details about Pleistocene animal anatomy, renowned paleobiologist and artist R. Dale Guthrie offers a fascinating and controversial interpretation of ancient cave art in his new book "The Nature of Paleolithic Art."

This ancient art was made during the late Pleistocene, about 10,000 to 35,000 years ago, and has typically been the purview of art historians and anthropologists, many of whom view Paleolithic art as done by accomplished shaman-artists. "This assumption may be true of a few of the best known and better-drawn images, but these are a small proportion of preserved Paleolithic art," Guthrie said.

Using new forensic techniques on fossil handprints of the artists and examining thousands of images, "I found that all ages and both sexes were making art, not just the senior male shamans," Guthrie said. These included hundreds of prints made as ocher, manganese, or clay negatives and a few positive prints made with pigments or mud applied to hands that were then placed on cave surfaces.

"The possibility that adolescent giggles and snickers may have echoed in dark cave passages as often as the rhythm of a shaman's chant demeans neither artists nor art," writes Guthrie.

"I was using Paleolithic art both to appreciate the colorful renditions and to find useful and interesting details about Pleistocene animal anatomy," said Guthrie, professor emeritus of the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. A symposium of Paleolithic art scholars in 1979 "... set me on a new course of trying to place Paleolithic art in a larger dimension of natural history and linking artistic behavior to our evolutionary past," writes Guthrie.

The book, which contains more than 3,000 images all drawn by Guthrie, is about more than art. It's about good parenting, children, romantic love, lust, play, graffiti, risk-proneness, missing shields, hour-glass figures, striped horses, seas of grasses, and cold dry winds – it's about life on the margins of the Ice Age Mammoth Steppe.

Copyright 2006 by Space Daily, Distributed United Press International

Explore further: Archeologist suggests much of Paleolithic cave art was done by women

Related Stories

Spain prehistoric cave art gems reopen to lucky few

February 28, 2014

With its 14,000-year-old red bison, Spain's Altamira cave paintings reopened to a handful of visitors Thursday, giving them a glimpse of some of the world's most spectacular prehistoric art.

Women leave their handprints on the cave wall

October 15, 2013

Plaster handprints from kindergarten, handprint turkeys, handprints outside Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood—are all part of modern life, but ancient people also left their handprints on rocks and cave walls. Now, ...

Scientists announce Top 10 New Species from 2012

May 23, 2013

An amazing glow-in-the-dark cockroach, a harp-shaped carnivorous sponge and the smallest vertebrate on Earth are just three of the newly discovered top 10 species selected by the International Institute for Species Exploration ...

Recommended for you

How bees naturally vaccinate their babies

July 31, 2015

When it comes to vaccinating their babies, bees don't have a choice—they naturally immunize their offspring against specific diseases found in their environments. And now for the first time, scientists have discovered how ...

Image: Hubble sees a dying star's final moments

July 31, 2015

A dying star's final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The death throes of this star may only last mere moments on a cosmological timescale, but this star's demise is still quite ...

Exoplanets 20/20: Looking back to the future

July 31, 2015

Geoff Marcy remembers the hair standing up on the back of his neck. Paul Butler remembers being dead tired. The two men had just made history: the first confirmation of a planet orbiting another star.

Earth flyby of 'space peanut' captured in new video

July 31, 2015

NASA scientists have used two giant, Earth-based radio telescopes to bounce radar signals off a passing asteroid and produce images of the peanut-shaped body as it approached close to Earth this past weekend.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.