Most Cave Art The Work Of Teens Not Shamans

Feb 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: A word in your ear, but make it snappy

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Google searches hold key to future market crashes

59 minutes ago

A team of researchers from Warwick Business School and Boston University have developed a method to automatically identify topics that people search for on Google before subsequent stock market falls.

Recommended for you

A word in your ear, but make it snappy

18 hours ago

To most, crocodiles conjure images of sharp teeth, powerful jaws and ferocious, predatory displays – but they are certainly not famous for their hearing abilities. However, this could all change, as new ...

Understanding the economics of human trafficking

19 hours ago

Although Europe is one of the strictest regions in the world when it comes to guaranteeing the respect of human rights, the number of people trafficked to or within the EU still amounts to several hundred ...

User comments : 0