Cavemen were better at drawing animals than modern artists

Dec 05, 2012
This is a prehistoric illustration of an elephant from the Libian Tadrart Acacus. Credit: Citation: Horvath G, Farkas E, Boncz I, Blaho M, Kriska G (2012) Cavemen Were Better at Depicting Quadruped Walking than Modern Artists: Erroneous Walking Illustrations in the Fine Arts from Prehistory to Today. PLoS ONE 7(12): e49786. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049786

Prehistoric artists were better at portraying the walk of four-legged animals in their art than modern man, according to new research published December 5 in the open access journal PLoS ONE by Gabor Horvath and colleagues from Eotvos University (Budapest), Hungary.

Most quadrupeds have a similar sequence in which they move each limb as they walk, trot or run, and this sequence was studied and outlined in the early 1880s by Eadweard Muybridge. The authors examined prehistoric and modern artwork ranging from of cows and elephants to statues and paintings of horses, elephants and other quadrupeds in motion to see how well these artistic depictions matched the scientific observations of animal motion.

They found that the majority of depictions of these animals walking or trotting had their legs incorrectly positioned, but the prehistoric paintings had the lowest error rates of 46.2%, whereas modern pre-Muybridgean art depicted animal motion incorrectly 83.5% of the time. This error rate decreased to 57.9% after 1887. Whether these differences were due to artistic license with imagery or lack of understanding of isn't clear, say the authors.

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More information: Horvath G, Farkas E, Boncz I, Blaho M, Kriska G (2012) Cavemen Were Better at Depicting Quadruped Walking than Modern Artists: Erroneous Walking Illustrations in the Fine Arts from Prehistory to Today. PLoS ONE 7(12): e49786. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049786

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User comments : 19

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TheWalrus
4.2 / 5 (5) Dec 05, 2012
Yeah, but I'll bet modern man is better at representing the motions of Super Mario.
rod_russell_9
1.3 / 5 (24) Dec 05, 2012
That cannot be! With evolution, we only keep getting better at everything.
Terminus
4.7 / 5 (13) Dec 05, 2012
"Evolution" You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means
Telekinetic
3.1 / 5 (13) Dec 05, 2012
"Whether these differences were due to artistic license with imagery or lack of understanding of animal movement isn't clear, say the authors."- article
It's simple. When you hunt a beast of this size, you had better understand its gait very well- or learn its gait from underneath it. Our forebears were connected to nature in ways that we've lost. We have DE-volved in some respects.

ValeriaT
3 / 5 (8) Dec 05, 2012
A nice film document about paintings in Chahuvet cave, many of them are of high artistic value and they even imitate motion and 3D effects in the blinking light of fire.
ubavontuba
1.7 / 5 (11) Dec 06, 2012
The artist who made this image was truly a gifted individual. It's fascinating to me that the proportions are wrong, yet so right (no adult pachyderm species was ever this lanky/gangly). The emphasis is certainly on the gait.

I wonder what species it represents?

Jayman
2.3 / 5 (6) Dec 06, 2012
There is no evidence that "evolution" always 'improves' things. Humans are allegedly 'evolving' into dumber beings. In fact, the evolution of intelligence was the single-worst event in the timescale of planet Earth. It has left the entire planet foundering.
Jeffhans1
1.6 / 5 (7) Dec 06, 2012
There is no evidence that "evolution" always 'improves' things. Humans are allegedly 'evolving' into dumber beings. In fact, the evolution of intelligence was the single-worst event in the timescale of planet Earth. It has left the entire planet foundering.


If we can manage to colonize other planetary bodies it will all be worth it. Where humans go earth based life automatically follows.
kochevnik
2.1 / 5 (7) Dec 06, 2012
@rod_russell_9 That cannot be! With evolution, we only keep getting better at everything.
You're confusing evolution with conservatism
88HUX88
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 06, 2012
should read.. Cavemen were better than modern artists at drawing animals (they hadn't seen any modern artists, how could they draw them?)
Sonhouse
3 / 5 (2) Dec 06, 2012
should read.. Cavemen were better than modern artists at drawing animals (they hadn't seen any modern artists, how could they draw them?)
Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk:)
bredmond
not rated yet Dec 06, 2012
"Evolution" You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means


Inconcievable!
ArtflDgr
1 / 5 (7) Dec 06, 2012
domestication of man has led to man who does not know the world he lives in. this is great for progressives and left leaning ideologies like the soviet union my family came from and our new politics... as they will accept erroneous principals and turn things into a battle of belief, not facts and debates. the most ignorant win by refusing to concede what they dont know, and refusing to look it up...
chuck_kritzon
5 / 5 (3) Dec 07, 2012
These ancient artists grew up seeing these animals at every point in their life and in all seasons. They new the physiology of these animals based on hunting and butchering these same animals and would have had an intimate an encyclopedic knowledge of them. It is no guess that with this knowledge of anatomy they were able to produce very accurate depictions of these ice age animals including seasonal and regional shadings and coloration's as depicted in the cave paintings of Europe and other continents.
cantdrive85
1.7 / 5 (6) Dec 08, 2012
Yeah, what Chuck said...
_traw_at
1 / 5 (1) Dec 09, 2012
Evolution can work in retrograde, too: it is not impossible to evolve until a species reaches a dead end and has a difficult time to survive.
Eating only bamboo or eucalyptus leaves is fine as long as there are bamboo plants and/ or eucalyptus...
Uneducated
1 / 5 (4) Dec 09, 2012
HaHa So to evolve, do we all start growing a second set of arms without warning? or do we only grow a second set of arms if a mutant human with two sets of arms does things better than the rest of us and reproduces? Im confused
elektron
1.8 / 5 (5) Dec 09, 2012
Unless a drawing is meant to be a scientific representation then art cannot be said to be 'right' or 'wrong' because the entire perceived reality is a construction of the mind. With before it was possible with photography to capture the stop motion of horses galloping, artists painted what they perceived to be reality. If their depiction was meant to be scientific then they were 'wrong', if it was a representation of reality as perceived by a human being then it was 'right'.

Is Picasso's representation of women in Les Demoiselles d'Avignon any less accurate a representation of reality as say the dutch masters of photorealistic paintings of bowls of fruit on elaborate persian carpets.

Art as a representation of reality is peculiar to human beings and there is no way to judge it against so called 'reality', if it is art and not science. Even science could have a problem with regards to the wavelength of electromagnetic radiation reflected. Is 'reality' what we see or a bee sees?
J_Walker
not rated yet Dec 12, 2012
"Better" is subjective. I've never seen an elephant look like that before.