Although I found Werner Herzog, the filmmaker, an irritating presence (and Kent found the 3D nausea-making), I became intrigued by the paintings. When Gregory Curtis’ recent book on Ice Age era European cave paintings passed under my nose at the library I decided to give it a try.
After listing a number of similarities among paintings found in caves from France to Spain Curtis says:
The immutable similarity in themes, colors, and techniques shows that the cave paintings were the creation of artists working in a cultural tradition that survived for more than 20,000 years. … [A]s painting is both an art and a skill that must be learned, and as there was a single acceptable style to which the painters had to conform, the skills of painting must have been taught.
The paintings are the physical remains of a sophisticated culture? A civilization that lasted 20,000 years? Can one talk about civilization without cities? The paintings reveal a continuity that can’t be coincidence. These were people who knew how to transmit consistent and well-defined ideas across millennia. Today we have a hard time comprehending the mindsets of people a hundred years removed from us. A culture a thousand years old seems weird and foreign, even if we can trace our ancestry to the people. The painters decorating a cave in 10,000 B.C.E. were comfortably working in a style their brethren of 10,000 years prior would have known and approved.
sourceThe Cave Painters: probing the mysteries of the world’s first artists by Gregory Curtis