Cave Art More Realist Than Abstract

Image of a horse from the Lascaux caves.

Image of a horse from the Lascaux caves.

If you thought that those ancient cave paintings at Lascaux and elsewhere were pretty abstract, think again. AP via Fox News reports that DNA studies suggest the cave painters were actually painting what they saw:

Cave painters during the Ice Age were more like da Vinci than Dali, sketching realistic depictions of horses they saw rather than dreaming them up, a study of ancient DNA finds.

It’s not just a matter of aesthetics: Paintings based on real life can give first-hand glimpses into the environment of tens of thousands of years ago. But scientists have wondered how much imagination went into animal drawings etched in caves around Europe.

The latest analysis published online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences focused on horses since they appeared most frequently on rock walls. The famed Lascaux Cave in the Dordogne region of southwest France and the Chauvet Cave in southeast France feature numerous scenes of brown and black horses. Other caves like the Pech Merle in southern France are adorned with paintings of white horses with black spots.

Past studies of ancient DNA have only turned up evidence of brown and black horses during that time. That led scientists to question whether the spotted horses were real or fantasy.

To get at the genetics of equine coat color, an international team led by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany analyzed DNA from fossilized bones and teeth from 31 prehistoric horses. The samples were recovered from more than a dozen archaeological sites in Siberia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe and the Iberian peninsula.

It turned out six of the horses had a genetic mutation that gives rise to a spotted coat, suggesting that ancient artists were drawing what they were seeing. Brown was the most common coat color, found in 18 horses…

[continues at AP via Fox News]

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  • Reptoids

    They sure saw something, but it wasn’t by being sober.
    There’s too little consensus about why they did it, i.e. going into the deepest caverns to paint animals they weren’t actually hunting ( so that discredits the whole idea of them trying to gain some sort of magical power over their prey ).  ‘L’art pour l’art’ has already been discarded by every scholar in the field too.
    If anything, the hypothesis that we are dealing with depictions of the shamanic visions our forefathers had on psychedelic drugs is gaining more ground within the academia.
    Bill Hicks would be ecstatic.

  • Reptoids

    They sure saw something, but it wasn’t by being sober.
    There’s too little consensus about why they did it, i.e. going into the deepest caverns to paint animals they weren’t actually hunting ( so that discredits the whole idea of them trying to gain some sort of magical power over their prey ).  ‘L’art pour l’art’ has already been discarded by every scholar in the field too.
    If anything, the hypothesis that we are dealing with depictions of the shamanic visions our forefathers had on psychedelic drugs is gaining more ground within the academia.
    Bill Hicks would be ecstatic.

    • Jin The Ninja

      You are exactly right, the consensus is that David Lewis-Williams was correct in his assertion of cave painting as shamanic trance-induced drawings.

    • Monkey See Monkey Do

      Mos def.
      ‘Supernatural’ by Graham Hancock is an interesting read on this subject.

  • CosmicAmazing

    Now what does this tell you about the cave paintings of exterterestrials? 

    Ancients painting what they saw…. Have you seen the things they have painted?

    • CosmicAmazing

      *extraterrestrials 

      Woops…

  • CosmicAmazing

    Now what does this tell you about the cave paintings of exterterestrials? 

    Ancients painting what they saw…. Have you seen the things they have painted?

  • CosmicAmazing

    *extraterrestrials 

    Woops…

  • Anonymous

    You are exactly right, the consensus is that David Lewis-Williams was correct in his assertion of cave painting as shamanic trance-induced drawings.

  • Taisto

    Surely at least some of them were into L’art pour l’art?

  • Taisto

    Surely at least some of them were into L’art pour l’art?

    • Jin The Ninja

      that was the mainstream theory for around 50 years, but most scholars have moved to the ethnogenic drug-trance model.

  • Anonymous

    that was the mainstream theory for around 50 years, but most scholars have moved to the ethnogenic drug-trance model.

  • Monkey See Monkey Do

    Mos def.
    ‘Supernatural’ by Graham Hancock is an interesting read on this subject.

  • Vigilantius

    This is complete bullshit and is nothing more than an attempt to deny the religous significance of the cave paintings and their very very very wide subject matter and range of how horses and other animals were depicted.  Next they’ll say there was DNA evidence that men had antlers back then.  This is pretty embarassing stuff, even for modern atheist scientists.

  • Vigilantius

    This is complete bullshit and is nothing more than an attempt to deny the religous significance of the cave paintings and their very very very wide subject matter and range of how horses and other animals were depicted.  Next they’ll say there was DNA evidence that men had antlers back then.  This is pretty embarassing stuff, even for modern atheist scientists.

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