World History

Cave Paintings: Art or Grafitti?

cave painting

Cave of El Castillo

Cave of Altamira

Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave (Chauvet Cave)

Cave Paintings: Art or Graffiti?

Cave of El Castillo

This cave is located on the northern coast of Spain in the Cantabria region. It is part of the Caves of Cantabria UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are many petrographs in the caves. Unlike a petroglyph, which is a carving, a petrograph is a “writing,” and before writing it was a drawing.

We are only interested in the oldest, because it is the oldest in the world!

This petrograph is a red stippled disc. Is it the sun? No one knows.

It is traditionally dated at 40,000 B.C.: about 100,000 years later than Murujuga.

Did it survive the flood? Normally paint would not survive. It would have had to exist in a hard rock cave that was thoroughly sealed.

These are limestone caves. Flood theorists expect that soft rock caves like these were caused by the scouring of the flood cataclysm. Therefore, even the oldest painting was drawn after the flood.

Cave of Altamira

The Cave of Altamira, which is close to the Cave of El Castillo, was formed by early karst formation. The topography was formed by dissolution of “soft” or carbonate rocks such as limestone. It includes a barren rocky top layer with no rivers or streams. Underneath is the water and drainage system: rivers, fountains, caves, and sinkholes.

Flood theorists think all “soft” caves were likely caused by the flood.

Let’s talk about the petrographs. They are traditionally dated at 36,000 B.C.

The art is amazing! It’s on the walls, yes, but also across the ceiling!

What a crick in the neck! How did they get up there? Did the artists build scaffolding? Wait. We don’t picture ancient people able to build and use scaffolding! Time to readjust our mindsets—again.

Animals and abstract shapes are painted in polychromic style using the natural color of the rock, charcoal, and ochre or hematite.

Ochre is a natural clay earth pigment. It consists of ferric oxide and varying amounts of clay and sand resulting in pigments from yellow to deep orange to brown.

Hermatite is a reddish-black mineral that can be crushed into pigment.

Animals in different poses were drawn with multiple colors from yellow to orange to reddish brown to black.

But the pigments were not only used in their natural state. Sometimes they were diluted. This variation in intensity produced a study in light and dark, and a sense of shadow.

As if that wasn’t enough, the artists used the cracks and shapes of the rock itself as part of their art. For instance, a bison could be drawn over a bulge in the rock in such a way that the bulge becomes the bison’s rounded ribcage!

Yes, the picture above is from Altimira, and you can see the rounded shoulder and ribcage. Look at the shading! The anatomical detail!

These people are way beyond my pay grade.

Later art included hand stencils. These were made by placing a hand on the rock and blowing pigment over them, possibly using a tube.

When calculations proved that these handprints were usually female, feminists rejoiced. The assumption that men were the artists because they were the shamans (and who says that’s true?) had been debunked!

Steady there. That could be true. Or perhaps male artists preferred female prints and used hand models.

This glorious art is no graffiti!

cave painting

Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave (Chauvet Cave)

The cave is located near southeastern France. The soft, clay-like floor retains paw prints of cave bears and depressions thought to be “nests” where they slept. Skulls of cave bears and an ibex are present. There are also paw prints of a dog or wolf.

There are also the footprints of a child.

The art is traditionally dated at 30,000 B.C.

There are no complete human figures. A few panels of red ochre hand-prints exist. Abstract lines and dots are found throughout the cave. Hundreds of animal paintings fall into at least thirteen species. Frequently painted cave art animals include horses, aurochs (a large, wild Eurasian ox, predecessor of today’s cattle), and mammoths.

The above Chauvet Cave petroglyph is a horse.

But many predatory animals are also included: cave lions, leopards, bears, and cave hyenas. They also painted rhinoceroses! Rhinoceroses in France?

Three artistic techniques were used here that were rarely used elsewhere.

The first seems like common sense, but it wasn’t common: scraping the cave wall clear of debris before beginning to paint. This left a smooth, lighter surface.

Second, artists sometimes incised or etched around the outlines of certain figures, giving them a three-dimensional quality. These figures also seem to move. Because only some figures are chosen, the question rises whether this technique indicated these figures were more important.

The last technique is one of scenes. Animals are sometimes shown as interacting with each other. A pair may be butting heads in a mastery contest.

Why are we so excited about the scenes? There are scenes in the Australian petroglyphs.

Ah, but apparently in Europe that composition had been lost. At Chauvet it was rediscovered.

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Photo credits:

Altamira: Jesusdefuensanta on
Chauvet: atlanta-kid on