The Cave Art Paintings of the Chauvet Cave

VISITING THE CHAUVET CAVE BY JOHN ROBINSON

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It was He who had taught the Clan to follow the migrating herds of Bison. It was He who had decreed that the Cave by the great Lion Arch over the river was to be the sacred Sanctuary of their Clan, where sacred rituals would be performed to enhance man's courage and women's fertility.
 
At night around the fire, the Clan had listened again and again to the Old Woman telling them stories about the Great One, and the wonderful things that He had done. How He had found the Cave and planned the Sanctuary. How He had ordered the cave paintings to be started, and planned the ceremonies that must be followed to select the Chief and Initiate the Women. It was He who had made the Laws of the Clan, which if followed faithfully, would ensure their survival. Now it was time to choose the new Chief, the strongest hunter, killer of the Bear, and his Wife, who would be blessed by the Bison Sorcerer, so the Clan would prosper and grow.
 
I watched the Clan file through the entrance into the Altar chamber, and moved around to the bench at the back of the chamber. Some of the women carried furs, which they spread over the clay seat before sitting down. The drum stopped and a hush fell upon the Clan as they waited.
 
The Old Woman stood by the Altar with a torch burning brightly in her hand. She called out a name and a man stood. I could see that he was carrying a bear skull. The Old Woman took the skull that was on the Altar and threw it to one side. The clatter of bone on the calcite floor echoed around the chamber. The man stepped forward, gave the skull from the Bear he had killed to the Old Woman, who then raised it for all to see, before laying it on the Altar. A shout of approval came from the watching clan.
 
The Old Woman gave an order and a boy sprang up, took a torch, and disappeared into the back of the cave, to quickly return carrying in his free hand a Bison horn full of water. The Old Woman took it, held it high, and then tipped it over the man's head as he knelt before her. The new Chief had been chosen and anointed. He rose, faced the Clan and raised his arms in salute. Again the Clan shouted their approval.
 
The Old Woman then called again a name. This time a young woman stepped forward. She was beautiful, with long hair bound in a plait that hung down her back. The Old Woman took her hand and led her back past the Horse panel towards me, and then up to the entrance of the Holy of Holies.
 
Each was carrying a torch and from the light I could see the young woman looking at the cave paintings on the walls. She was not frightened but held the Old Woman's hand tightly. They descended into the cavern and disappeared. The Old Woman laid the fur she was carrying in front of the Sorcerer, and the young woman knelt on it facing the Man Bison, the Sorcerer.
 
There was complete silence in the Chauvet Cave as the Clan watched, and waiting for the return of the women. When they appeared at the entrance of the Sanctuary, a great shout went up. The young woman carried the fur, but her plait no longer hung down her back, as it was now lying across the giant Bear skull which the Great One had placed there five thousand years ago when he founded the clan. She walked ahead of the Old Woman, who would teach her the secret ceremony of the Bear Cult.
 
With a signal from the Old Woman the drum started to beat slowly again. The Clan rose and started to file out of the chamber past the Bear Altar. The Initiation ceremony was complete. The Clan was reborn.
 
I watched as they passed by me, this time the Old Woman was last. As she passed under the Owl she held her hand up in a farewell salute. The sound of the drum got fainter and the flickering torches disappeared. I was once again left alone in the dark of the Chauvet Cave.
 

THE ASCENT OF MAN


Quote from Jacob Bronowsk's famous book: The Ascent of Man
 
The Ancient of Days
William Blake
Man is a puny, slow, awkward, unarmed animal - he had to invent the pebble, a flint, a knife, a spear.
 
But why to these scientific inventions, which were essential to his survival, did he come to caves like this, and make paintings of animals in places that were dark, secret, remote, hidden, inaccessible? I think that the power that we see expressed here for the first time is the power of anticipation: the forward-looking imagination.
 
Art and science are both uniquely human actions, outside the range of anything that animal can do. And here we see that they derive from the same human faculty: the ability to visualise the future, to foresee what might happen and plan to anticipate it, and represent it to ourselves in images that we project and move inside our head.
 
What we call cultural evolution is essentially a constant growing and widening of the human imagination.
 
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