The Cave Art Paintings of the Niaux Cave


Dr. Jean Clottes stated that three years ago, he and his wife Renee, now sadly departed, decided to bequeath his life's work in prehistory - over 4,000 books, numerous journals, archives and reprints, and some 60,000 slides - to the Park of Prehistory. The collection of works are now being housed in a purpose-built documentation centre, named after the eminent prehistorian. To celebrate this, a new and extensive exhibition entitled 'The Art of Origins, Origins of Art' was planned to coincide with the Center's opening. Jean Clottes hopes that this will not only attract researchers, but that it will also encourage the donation of books, archives and even objects from both academics and members of the public.
The new International Center of Rock Art includes exhibition space of 500 sq.m., a 120-seat auditorium and a library. With this new development, the Park of Prehistory at Tarascon-sur-Ariege achieves 'museum' status.
Bison Niaux Cave Art Paintings France Palaeolithic Pyrenees
Bison Cave Painting from the Niaux Cave
Bison Niaux Cave Art Paintings France Palaeolithic Prehistory
Bison Cave Painting from the Niaux Cave
Why did the Magdalenian people use the depths of the cave, and what meaning did they give to the inscriptions they left there? Studies have shown that the images were often superimposed - the successive layers of lines illustrate the contributions of successive artists. Why was this? Was the painting not complete? Or does it suggest that process was more important than product? This was a process that continued for a great length of time.
The themes depicted suggest that the paintings were not the expression of material, utilitarian or purely artistic preoccupations. Instead, the symbols and the animals represented expressions of a spiritual conception of existence. In a word - religion.
The fact that these paintings and engravings were made deep inside caves where nobody lived suggests they were endowed with spiritual significance. Man creates gods in his own image. At this time, Palaeolithic humankind was surrounded by animals, and therefore part of this faunal matrix, not above it.
Bison Niaux Cave Art Paintings France Palaeolithic Pyrenees
Bison Cave Painting from the Niaux Cave
Ibex Niaux Cave Art Paintings France Palaeolithic Prehistory
Ibex Cave Painting from the Niaux Cave
Was it possible that the paintings represented this spiritual connection? If this is so, and based on our observations of modern hunter-gatherers in other parts of the world, we can hypothesize that these paintings were the work of shamans. Jean Clottes and David Lewis-Williams believe that the shamanic stance would suggest that the rock face in the cave is the 'veil' between the 'world' and the 'spirit world'; why else would an artist paint an ibex passing into the rock?
Shamanism has multiple components, but there are several fundamental features. A shamanic society believes in a cosmos in which several worlds exist. Shamans, in particular, have direct access to these other worlds - to cure, to maintain, to restore and to ensure. They may also receive spirit-helpers in animal form. Fluidity characterizes shamanism - fluidity between the different worlds, between the genders, between humans and animals. Clearly, this concept is a working and logical hypothesis. Not all palaeolithic rock art can be ascribed to shamanic practices, but this concept does help us take a step toward understanding our ancestors' attitude to the supernatural and their ways of approaching their own gods.
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