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Cave paintings/why?

  1. Sep 26, 2006 #1
    People have wondered why humans made those cave paintings tens of thousands of years ago.

    One thing I would think is for sure; that they did so because they discovered they could do it.

    But, I feel I've found another reason; the pictures are monuments to their humanity like later architecture and artwork were made for. At that time, they hadn't thought to work with stone, clays, or even dirt. The later use of stone and clays to make temples and statues was a 'generalization' of the discovery of drawing artwork in caves. I'd site the drawing of their hands as proof of what these cave drawings are about.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 26, 2006 #2
  4. Sep 26, 2006 #3

    this website says some pretty interesting things about these cave paintings; paintings like twenty meters up covering the whole ceiling; certainly no mean feet.

    The website also mentions abstract 'signs'!
  5. Sep 26, 2006 #4
    one feature I find curious is there doesn't seem to be much astronomical concerns portrayed in the cave paintings;
  6. Sep 26, 2006 #5
    Here's someone who did find
    continued here

  7. Sep 26, 2006 #6


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    Or even 'mean feat'.:biggrin:

    What would points in the sky have to have with buffalo migrations?
  8. Sep 26, 2006 #7
    crn wins more brownie points; not in reference to nannoh's contribution;
  9. Sep 27, 2006 #8


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    :confused: :confused:
  10. Sep 27, 2006 #9


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    Why, indeed, should cave paintings have any astronomical significance?
    Stonehenge certainly didn't have any such connection, whatever Fred Hoyle wants to believe.
    Then, as for the most part now, knowledge of astronomy was utterly irrelevant in people's lives. Hunters followed where animals went, whereas farmers planted when the weather seemed favourable. The positions of the stars would at the most be incidental, more probably irrelevant in these people's lives.
  11. Sep 27, 2006 #10
    A few more related articles where the cycles of the moon are recorded on cave walls and so on and so forth.





    There seems to be plenty of evidence to support the idea that there was a study and understanding of astronomy thousands if not 10s of thousands of years before Copernicus or Galileo. And much of the evidence is on "cave" walls.
  12. Sep 27, 2006 #11


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    Well, it became pretty important when agriculture came along. Farmers that simply planted when the weather seemed favourable would not be very good farmers for long.
  13. Sep 27, 2006 #12
    One more note about this is that when there were eclipses or other infrequent astronomical occurances they were recorded out of reverence or fear or plain astonishment - on cave walls - by the people of the time. For the most part these records are on the North American continent and are found in petroglyphs and pictographs on and between the eastern and western coasts.

    Probably because you haven't looked.
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2006
  14. Sep 27, 2006 #13


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    Honestly, many of the artifacts now identified as astronomical don't look like anything a layperson would recognize as astronomical. For that matter it took generations before such identifications were made, even in the professional community. So it isn't just "dirty eyes" but a genuine cognitive problem.
  15. Sep 27, 2006 #14
    This is true. And I would not have seen any significance in the drawings as they relate to astronomical configuration if it weren't for the clarifying experience of looking it up on google.com.
  16. Sep 28, 2006 #15
    If the Ice Age cave paintings were meant as monuments to humanity, wouldn't there be grand depictions of people rather than animals? The very few depictions of humans are simple stick figures which in no way compare to the self-glorifying, super-realistic sculptures of classical Greece.

    The European cave artists were Stone Age hunter/gatherers whose religion or worldview, if historical examples are any indication, involved the necessity of drawing power from other animals. That suggests that they didn't have a very lofty view of themselves within their world, certainly not like we do today. It's more like they were glorifying the animals on which they depended.

    Also, many paintings overlap and partially cover previous paintings which suggests a more temporal and pragmatic purpose, such as ensuring success in that season's hunt or indoctrinating that year's adolescent boys into adult hunting society.

    As for the painted hands, most of them are missing one or more digits. That doesn't argue much for self-glorification.
  17. Sep 29, 2006 #16


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    Hm. This is food for thought. I had not thought about ways to determine what they felt was important.

    could be explained by the continual vacancy and reoccupation of caves by different tribes
  18. Sep 29, 2006 #17
    That could be, and it probably did happen at times. I was really just thinking out loud, but I do think that STone Age hunter/gatherers didn't place themselves above other creatures in the animal heirarchy. If anything, they considered themselves lower since they felt they had to take the power of another animal to succeed in life. When your survival depends on animals that are bigger, stronger or faster than you are, you would know them more intimately and would tend to have more respect for them.

    I once spent one evening around a campfire with a group of Indians, young men and a few women in their late teens and twenties. They lived in a fairly remote community with most modern conveniences but still depended to some extent on hunting, fishing and trapping for their livelihood. For about an hour, they talked about the different animals they encounter and discussed in detail their various attributes and strengths. There was no bravado over shooting the biggest or the most (which was the only contribution I could make to the conversation so I soon shut up). My impression was that they considered themselves an equal member of the world they lived in, not a superior species with domination over all other animals, and therefore had no reason to glorify themselves. I don't think that came until we cut our ties with wild animals and didn't need them for survival anymore.

    I just thought of the Venus figurines. They were made around the same time as the cave paintings and are quite realistic compared to the stick figures in the caves, at least in the parts that mattered to them. Usually the faces and arms and feet are very simply represented or omitted altogether. Again, I think that shows they had a specific purpose and weren't meant as monuments to their makers' humanity as the OP suggested.
  19. Jan 4, 2007 #18


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    Old school graffiti, of course. :)
  20. Jan 7, 2007 #19

    A lot of you seem to be missing one rather cruicial detail. Astronomy, even at the most basic level, is a precise science. The oldest cave paintings are thought to be over 30,000 years old. That's about 24,000 years before the earliest signs of a coherent number system.

    Astronomy or, more preciesly, astrology was invented by religious elites in comparatively afluent early urban societies. They had a secure roof over their head and a steady food supply. Moreover, the division of labour was such as to allow them the time to take regular careful measurements, which would, in turn, allow them to predict the one thing that is, despite appearances, quite predictable - the stars. Of course, if you can predict the STARS, you've got to be able to predict trivial earthly matters such as failing crops and success in battle.

    As for the hand paintings, the way they are though to have been done was by taking a mouthful of whatever paint they were using and spraying it over your hand. Now consider whether you could paint any other part of your body using this method, or whether you would be able to find a willing "model" to stand in front of the rock, while you cover them in your spittle. A handprint, on the other hand is quick and convenient way of leaving an "I was here". If you look carefully, it says "for a good time call on Mighty Mammoth's missus" just underneath.
  21. Jan 17, 2007 #20
    If yopu want to know "Why Cae Paintings" go and ask somebody who does them.
    Australian Aborigini's are still cave painting. It is a method of illustrating the verbal histories "Dream Time" to an illiterate population. Until western immigrants impacted so devastatingly on their culture the older paintings had no value so new paintings were put over the top as they had for thousands of years. Very detailed descriptions of the meanings of the various symbols which are similar to European cave paintings are available.
    As for astronomical data, there are a number of examples of art work relating to the path of principle stars and the sun/moon. These were important in determining the seasons for crop planting in early agricultural societies, well before counting systems and calendars were available.
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