Gwenn Rigal was a information and interpreter within the well-known Lascaux cave for a few years. Few individuals are as nicely versed as he’s in prehistoric cave work. Now the interpretation of his The sacred time of the caves has arrived for the sorts of Adelphi (pp. 300, euro 32). A tremendous journey by the millennia to find the secrets and techniques of prehistoric artists. We requested him to inform Il Giornale about this mysterious iconography, which has been creating for 1000’s of years.
The historical past of prehistoric cave work could be very lengthy. Is it doable to attract an evolutionary line? Or extra distinct evolutionary traces?
“There are hundreds of thousands of prehistoric rock works on the planet. If we restrict our research to the wall artwork of the European Higher Paleolithic, between about 41000 BC and 11000 BC, it’s troublesome to watch a transparent evolution. What’s most hanging are the invariants: animals in profile and symbols, frequent use of pure reliefs, no contextual components, neither objects nor landscapes. Earlier than the invention of the Chauvet collapse Ardèche, specialists would have informed you about beginnings marked by an artwork of contour, with few inside particulars. The indicators had been relatively important and the extremities (horns, hooves) typically represented frontally. A number of thousand years later, the inner indicators and particulars multiply, the ends are represented by three quarters. A pattern that’s confirmed as we method the top of the glaciation, which additionally marks the top of this artwork: the more moderen caves typically present extra naturalistic animals and the best concentrations of indicators. However the discovery of the Chauvet collapse 1994, with dates that place it at the start of rock artwork, round 36,000 BC, has challenged this evolutionary view. With Chauvet, we notice that naturalism, perspective, and blur results are mastered proper from the beginning. Prehistoric artists haven’t perfected their artwork over time, they’ve merely made cultural selections. Which ultimately remained surprisingly steady if we contemplate the 30 thousand years that this (pre) historical past lasted ».
What do these work inform us about how our Cro-Magnon ancestors interpreted the world?
«What’s most hanging is, above all, the rarity of the human illustration. We now have many components of the human physique, palms in unfavourable and vulvas, specifically. However complete our bodies are uncommon. And when they’re represented, it’s the palms, ft and faces that aren’t. Feminine representations are extra quite a few than male ones, with typically exaggerated sexual traits. They’re the well-known prehistoric Venuses. When males are represented, they’re generally animalized and with intercourse erect. All this means a worldview during which the boundaries between nature and tradition, or between humanity and animality, will not be as sharp as in our present societies. Prehistoric man in all probability doesn’t see himself because the grasp and possessor of nature, he would relatively are likely to merge into it. Moreover, they by no means present anybody, specifically, no human being is clearly identifiable, which might correspond to a society the place the person is invited to downsize for the advantage of the group. It doesn’t essentially suggest, nevertheless, that they had been egalitarian societies, some richly endowed burials that invite us to be cautious on this topic. Lastly, vulvas and venus put us on the path of artists motivated by fertility considerations. Is it a request for renewal of the prey, points associated to the survival of the clan and even myths that inform the origin of the world? The query stays open ».
At this time now we have a exact concept of artwork as a seek for magnificence. Can these work be thought-about artwork? Or are they, in a way, primarily spiritual magical instruments?
“Watch out for ethnocentrism. Artwork will not be a common idea. Amongst hunter-gatherers, artwork is nearly at all times utilitarian and infrequently supernatural. If in our eyes these individuals are artists, I am by no means certain they thought-about themselves as such. Magic is clearly one of the crucial continuously superior hypotheses to elucidate cave artwork: looking magic, pacification magic, qualifying magic, destruction magic … However the proof will at all times be missing. “
We now have an apparent cultural issue in decoding sure myths or tales within the caves. May any of them have reached historic instances, even in a type that has modified over the centuries?
«It’s illusory to hope to decipher a vanished fable from the drawings on the partitions of a cave. It’s virtually as troublesome to think about that prehistoric myths might have survived us, given the a number of migratory episodes that separate us from glacial instances and the obvious fragility of our oral traditions. Fairly counterintuitively, nevertheless, it may very well be that sure creation myths, current on all continents, even have a glacial antiquity. The mythologists Jean-Loïc Le Quellec and Julien d’Huy subsequently labored extensively on the myths of the emergence, a really previous model of which should have seemed like this: Initially of time, man and animals weren’t but fully separated from one another and lived underground. Till the day they determined to go as much as the floor following the fractures of the rock. After they emerged (by holes within the floor or cave entrances) demise appeared. And for the reason that rock was nonetheless gentle at the start of time, their passage from one world to a different has left traces on the stone. A narrative of this kind is sort of appropriate with quite a lot of European rock artwork ».
The cave work and carvings have been preserved, however is it doable that there have been many different types of creativity that now we have misplaced monitor of?
“After all. As a result of differential conservation, which needs the vestiges to develop into uncommon as you go up in time, as we speak one will get the impression that Cro-Magnon painted or engraved solely on the underside of the caves. Nothing may very well be farther from the reality. We all know as we speak that Cro-Magnon males didn’t hesitate to mark their surroundings. For instance, the Cro-Magnon rock shelter within the Dordogne (underneath which the primary skeleton of the identical identify was discovered) was scarlet 27,000 years in the past. He should have seen himself from afar! However we had to make use of a microscope and picture processing software program to determine it out. Most of what was produced open air or on perishable supplies has now disappeared. And I am not simply excited about their artwork; their wooden and vegetable fiber processing was undoubtedly rather more developed than is usually imagined. As for the few musical devices discovered (flutes, rhombuses, scrapers, lithophones, and so on.), in the event that they verify the existence of prehistoric music, they depart us solely to think about ».