Cave Paintings


In many classes I have taken, one topic that is often covered is the cave paintings at Lascaux. I have encountered these in numerous French classes, an  anthropology course, and an art history course. They have always been interesting to me because in different classes they are interpreted differently. If you are unfamiliar with the caves and interested in a quick background I found a great page here and it is a pretty short read.

Looking at the paintings anthropologically, I learned these paintings were created my anatomically modern humans and prove their lifestyle of hunting in a collaborative group. From an art history perspective, I learned the portrayed animals may be an attempt at “sympathetic magic,” or magic predicated on the belief that actions performed on one thing can supernaturally affect another if the two have a sympathetic connection, or resemble each other like the paintings of animals. We also looked at the pigments and perspectives, and wondered why the paintings only depicted animals and people, never plants or vegetation.

These paintings can be looked at from many perspectives, and I think we could look at them from a philosophical perspective as well. For example, Hegel identifies true knowledge in the “I” and that the knowledge others have of us helps form our identity. My question is, did the people that created these paintings have the knowledge, identity, and the higher level of thinking we have today? In the paintings the people clearly demonstrate themselves in relation to others, hunting in group, so did they have encounters like the lord/bondsman in Hegel’s piece? By creating art, are they demonstrating the knowledge they learned in their environment through sense-certainty? Is there a reason they did not include plants in their pieces?

As anatomically modern humans, they were people like us, and so they must have had knowledge and been self-aware. But before anatomically modern humans, during the evolutionary phases you can learn about in anthropology, when can we say our species obtained distinct identities, knowledge, self-awareness, all the things that make us people?

I know most of these questions cannot be answered, but I think they are fun to speculate.

2 responses to “Cave Paintings

  1. The cave drawings are definitely a fascinating subject and its interesting that you have had the opportunity to analyze them in so many different ways. I agree that the paintings demonstrate that these people are self aware as well as aware of others since they are able to depict themselves in relation to others. With respect to the other questions you posed, I believe this goes more toward who these people actually were as living beings. For example, these people definitely could have experienced the phenomena of lordship and bondage. Who leads the hunts? Who give the orders to attack? What happens when they come into contact with another group of hunters? Maybe these answers lie in the cave drawings. If there was an image of a group whose leader was defined by some difference in appearance we may be able to posit that he was more powerful and stronger than the others and thus earned his role. Maybe there are no answers for us to find in the pictures in which case we can only make general guesses about the distant past.

  2. I think it is great that you interpreted these cave paintings, which you had already encountered so many interpretations of, from a philosophical standpoint! I also agree with Orli, I do think the cave paintings are the product of self aware peoples. You bring up a really good point when you ask whether or not these people had the same level of awareness and identity as we do today. It makes me wonder whether personal identity has always been a privilege of the human species or if there was ever a time where humans lacked awareness completely. Maybe awareness is something that only advanced along with the advancement of our species in which case they probably did not interact with each other, or encounter each others consciousnesses, in the same manner we do today. If awareness is this ever developing thing then maybe in the future humans will be able to achieve higher levels of awareness and understanding than we could today. You are right, a lot of questions that probably can’t be answered but that are fun to speculate anyways 🙂

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