Posted by: Brad Nixon | February 6, 2016

Cave Art Secrets Revealed

More than 16,000 years ago, the member of a tribe of Paleolithic humans crouched in the dark of a deep, low-ceilinged cave in what is now northern Spain.  The only illumination glowed from a guttering flame made by a burning twist of prairie grass in a scallop shell filled with animal tallow. It gave a smoky light.

The figure stretched out one hairy arm toward the smooth face of the cave wall. The fingers of the hand were dappled with dark colors: red ochre ground from stones and black charcoal from a burnt log, both mixed with animal fat. On the wall it drew shapes of power: lines that joined and formed mighty totems: a bison with shaggy fur, a long-necked stag with branching antlers. Black outlines, red bodies, black shaggy fur.

1024px-AltamiraBison (640x519)

The silent human rocked back on its haunches, regarding the figures. They were larger, faster and stronger than ten of the tribe combined. Only through powerful magic, knowledge and skill could they be hunted and slain. Its intoned simple, secret words: a chant of already ancient lineage that called forth the power. Then, at the proper instant, slashed with one black-coated finger down and into the heart of each figure: a spear-thrust, sure, sharp and deadly. The hunt would succeed when the light came again.

There was a sudden noise of stumbling footsteps over the loose rocks and gravel on the cave floor, and a larger figure loomed into the lamplight. It was the man, Mer.

“Ger make pictures!” Mer said.

The woman turned to regard the intruder, but remained in her crouch, saying nothing.

Mer exclaimed. “Me make, too!”

The big man reached down, smearing his hand in the mass of red ochre and then smacked the cave wall with his sticky, red palm, leaving a large hand print.

“Picture!” With that, he turned, stumbled back out of the cave, laughing to himself, followed by the disapproving scowl of the woman.

160 centuries later, children playing in the rocks near Santillana del Mar led an amateur archaelogist to the cave, which became world-famous for its astounding array of artwork rendered in impossibly brilliant detail, preserved for 16 millenia.

Amidst the bison, deer and horses, explorers and scientists found human hand prints: male hands. And so we know the artists were the men of the tribes.

Or do we?

© Brad Nixon 2016, 2017

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Responses

  1. I recently went to an exhibition about the cave art at the Natural History Museum in Madrid. Absolutely fascinating. I liked your imaginative reconstruction of how it all happened.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great illustration to relive important moment in history.. I’ve always marvelled at all these significant accounts that keeps reminding all of us of how great human civilization hv been…

    Like

    • Thanks for your comment, Selvi. That cave art is astoundingly wonderful.

      Liked by 1 person


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