Evidence of the
of the origins of Mediterranean cave art is difficult to gather and even more difficult a concept to analyze. However,
anthropologists and other scientists study fossil records and other evidence in order to piece together the puzzle of our
early ancestors, including their use of such art and ornament. Other scientists study the lack
of art and ornament in order to analyze the origins of such. Clive Gamble of Timewalkers: The Prehistory of Global
Colonization (1993), says of the origins of art, “The Pioneer phase is also notable for its lack of art and ornament.
The lack of such items as grave goods alongside Neanderthal bodies might, some claim, be evidence that the Pioneers and Ancients
had rites and ideologies that did not require such objects” (Gamble, 167). Therefore, the origins of art might be more
easily recognizable in later periods of human evolution. However, scientists are regularly discovering such art and ornament
of earlier periods of human existence – French explorers of the Lascaux Cave in southwestern France recently discovered Paleolithic artwork dating nearly 18,000-11,000 years ago. This group
of people, known as the Magdalenians, sketched elaborate engravings of animals that surely represent these people who lived
on the European continent centuries ago (Rigaud). These discoveries allow scientists to piece together evidences of the evolution
of modern humans. Thus, as Gamble mentions, “Our innate bias applies equally to the production of art. Those same Paleolithic
sites with Modern heads but Ancient flints show very clearly that art in the form of ornament, engraved slabs, figurines (not
to mention painted cave walls) is not invariably associated with modern looking
skulls. Therefore, “the development of which [is] art, appearing after 40,000 years ago” (Gamble) answers some
but not all questions of which anthropologists and other scientists ask, “what are the origins of art?”
Stone Tools and their Relation to Cave Art
The most beneficial and important type of data used in order
to study cave art and the origins of cave art and the meaning of cave art to prehistoric man is his/her stone tools. Stone
tools were simultaneously used – without such, various cave art carvings and drawings would be nearly impossible.
Cave art has been analyzed, both scientifically
and socially, ever since its first discovery years ago. Cave art tends to provide its researchers an abundant amount of information
regarding our most ancient ancestors. The notion of pre-historic cave art might also suggest our relatedness to the primitive
Neanderthal. Studies by Arizona State University’s own Paul Robert Fish (1979) suggest that, “The principal source for inference and hypothesis
about human behavior for much of the span of prehistory lies in stone tools and related debitage.” In addition, these
stone tools were the very ones used to carve and mark elaborate drawings on cave walls by these prehistoric peoples.
Several different types of data has been used (and is currently being used) in order to study cave art, stone tools,
etc. The research of numerous anthropologists certainly affirms this notion as well as the notion of the importance of these
stone tools. Fish (1979) further suggests, “These materials are highly resistant to physical and mechanical weathering.
Lithic artifacts often are recovered in remarkable abundance since utilization of such tools seems to entail frequent replacement
due to wear, breakage and loss.” Therefore, the study of such stone tools and the data gathered from analysis of these
tools is pertinent to any data also collected from various cave art sites around the world and the stone tools thus gathered
Fish (1979) also explains the importance of utilizing correct data when studying such stone tools and cave art. The
author suggests, “While this typological system has done much to bring order to Paleolithic terminology and has provided
a more realistic basis for the comparison of site assemblages, a more intensive examination based on the systematic study
of artifact attributes is almost nonexistent in the Paleolithic literature.” Thus, Fish’s (1979) studies suggest
that one means of collecting data may be more accurate than another (less reliable) means of collecting data; hence, the importance
of collecting the most accurate data in order to best analyze cave art and stone tools.
Susan Bierwirth’s (1996) studies also relay the importance of collecting the most accurate data when analyzing
cave art and stone tools. Bierwirth’s (1996) study suggests that, “While typology was central to most of this
earlier research, recent studies have focused less on individual tool types and more on continuity in tool morphology.”
Thus, both Fish’s (1979) and Bierwirth’s (1996) studies reveal that typology is not the most accurate method in
which to collect certain data.
Bierwirth S. 1996. Lithic analysis in southwestern France. Oxford: BAR.
Fish P. 1979. The interpretive potential of Mousterian debitage. Arizona State University.
Scientists realize that radio-carbon dating best analyzes the year of creation for most of the cave art
sites found throughout the Mediterranean region of Europe.
Visit this website to better understand the process of radio-carbon dating.
Check out these cool links to other cave
McDougal Littell Cave Art
Cave Art Lesson
Rock Art Net
This section authored by Allie Toth. Last updated April 25, 2005.