Cave man art: not precocious but mature
Thursday, December 18th, 2003
Tiny carvings 30,000 years old, recently discovered in a cave in the Swabian Mountains southwest of Ulm, are being haled as proof that early man was a precocious figurative artist.
Says Nature magazine, where the findings were announced: “the complexity of the findings undermines the traditional view that art began crudely and gradually acquired sophistication. ‘The new evidence refuses to fit,’ says [archaeologist Anthony Sinclair of the University of Liverpool, UK.] ‘It seems that the first modern humans in Europe were astonishingly precocious in their skills.'”
I’ve talked before about ancient artifacts with my father-in-law, a Hungarian artist and avid artifact-scavenger along the Danube river. I once tried to argue that the cave paintings at Lascaux, supposed dated at 15,000 BC, were modern fakes. “No way ancient man could concoct something that subtle and stylized,” I opined.
On the contrary, he said. Early art doesn’t look like the art of a five-year-old because it is actually the work of a mature culture. Europe’s current artistic tradition is less than 3000 years old. Is it any wonder that early man, with 5-10,000 years to perfect his technique and mannerisms, was a great figurative artist? It would be remarkable if early man had not developed a sophisticated artistic tradition.