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.

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