TESTING OUR ASSUMPTIONS: Faux Facts of the Lascaux Cave

Is it coincidental that this article was annoying for me, right before I begin this new series? Maybe. Maybe not!

 

I was noodling on the internet this morning, stopped to look something up about the Lascaux Cave in France, the inspiration for the work of my heart.

I came across this article in the Winchester Sun newspaper in northern Kentucky.

It’s actually a good article, focusing on gratitude for the things we take for granted in our lives. And Smith’s assumption is not only one that was taken seriously for years–that cave art is about hunting magic–it’s funny, and a gentle reminder to find the gifts we already have in our lives.

But….

It felt awkard to say this, but why rely on a totally disproven man-the-killer-ape philosphy in life?

I tried to write to her, but oddly, I could not find a way to contact her nor the newspaper. I also wasn’t sure if I were being too picky. Except…so much of the “facts”, aren’t.  That bothered me more than I anticipated. She got her point across, so maybe I should just shut up…?

So I decided not to send it, but to post my thoughts here, in my own space.

Here’s what I wrote:

Erin Smith’s article on Nov. 5, 2020, “What Good Things Have Brought You Here Today?
​I came across your article while looking something up.  It’s good, and I enjoyed it And yet….
I know the theory behind your thoughts (granted, they’re funny!) about the folks at Lascaux being tired of reindeer meat.
And it’s true, for generations, we’ve assumed all cave art, dating back more than 35,000 years now, was about hunting and sympathetic magic around hunting food animals. (My art history studies revealed Lascaux is now considered the “high gothic” of cave art, for its unique use of color.) It was “obviously” about men and boys practicing their target shooting. (Spear marks were found in some of the images.)
The elders were also teaching the boys how to draw, which is why there are animals with eight legs, and multiple heads. This is what was taught to us art history students in the ’70’s and for decades after.
And heck, maybe they WERE tired of eating reindeer meat.
But this ‘hunting magic assumption’ is now considered out-of-date.
Research shows that NONE of the caves depict the actual animals each community hunted. Yet nothing stopped them from hunting other animals.  So what’s that about?
Evidence from the sites of their communities reveal they did NOT hunt nor eat the animals mainly depicted in each cave, relative to evidence found in their settlements.
And this was not a male-only activitiy.
Turns out the spear marks were made at a later time, probably by another community that found the images after the original painters had moved on, and before the entrance to the cave collapsed. So, NOT made by the original artists.
Many of the shamans that created the images are women, and some suspect MOST of them were women. ​And evidence shows that men, women, even children participated in the ceremonies.
The ‘garbled images’? Inexperienced artists? Nope.
First, there is evidence of “multi-media” elements in the ceremonies (created in areas of the most intense echoes, so sound was probably a feature during their creation, or in the ceremonies that followed.)
There’s now evidence that through primitive artifacts, with the flickering light of torches, these images can appear to move, as demonstrated by this video by Marc Azema. You can watch the longer, most recent version here. Or the explanation of how these images were viewed here. But the last bit, at the end of them all, the montage of the large, running cat critter, is still the most astonishing. I can only imagine the intense observation of running lions that resulted in this highly-realistic rendition.
And last, at the begining of the 21st century, archeologists associate the Lascaux Cave’s work with the timing of great climate change. These people saw what we’re seeing, intense change in climate that affected their entire way of living, not over centuries, but within a handful of years. Cooler weather gave way to hotter weather, the vast grasslands were disappearing, the vast herds of animals that fed on them disappeared. One theory believes they were calling the horses back. (Most of the horses in Lascaux are pregnant.)
Someone who thinks I’m “making up a sappy story” about hunting magic said, “You don’t get it. Cave art is all about survival!” To which I replied, “So is a cathedral.”
My own artwork began with the inspiration of the Lascaux Cave. I get the clever wit of assuming they were tired of eating reindeer. I get that there was a great inspiration for your great article in this, and I enjoyed reading it.
And as Patricia Lauber said in her amazing children’s book, PAINTERS OF THE CAVES, we may never know the exact story of these paintings. They are a message that was not addressed to us.
Just sayin’ that the messages we can CHOOSE to see can carry an even bigger message that’s better for us all. There are now wonderful insights that can inspire even more insightful articles.
And we can choose NOT to diminish the spiritual work of a people lost to us in time, who were US–just as intelligent, just as resourceful, in short, just like us–to make our point.
Respectfully,
Luann Udell