The Stars Within Lascaux

Here's an interesting story at Seed Magazine discussing the 17,000-year-old cave art from Lascaux, France, through the lens of archaeoastronomy:

[Michael A. Rappenglück] noticed a group of six spots painted above the back of one of the aurochs in a part of the cave known as the Hall of the Bulls. Charcoal freckles surround the creature’s eye, which Rappenglück thought could represent the eye of the Taurus constellation embedded Lascaux Cave Artin the Hyades cluster. Astronomical calculations of when the Hyades cluster would have been visible to Northern Hemisphere observers during the season depicted in the image match well with the date range given by carbon-14 dating of the charcoal traces. He added a fresh layer of interpretation to the images with his conclusion that the cyclical appearance and disappearance of the Pleiades provided a celestial clock, used alongside carved-bone lunar calendars by hunters of the Magdalenian period or just before.

...Neurophysiologists such as William Calvin have suggested that the human ability to target a moving animal with a thrown rock developed into or coincided with the cognitive capacity for long-term planning. If the Lascaux cave-painters really had a precise time-keeping system, then these people actually scheduled their hunting—thus employing foresight well beyond where their rough-hewn weapons would strike an animal of prey—much as their descendants eventually planned their agrarian affairs according to celestial cycles. The in-heat, rutting season of the Magdalenian aurochs may have coincided with a celestial cue, allowing ancient peoples to track the gestation of these animals as the bovine with six bright spots rose high in the spring sky.

This certainly isn't a new idea - Rappenglück's theory was headline news a decade ago. For some reason, archaeastronomy still seems to be often shunted into the corner when discussing the motivations of ancient people, with archaeologists favouring theories tightly bound to power structures or sexual symbolism. As such, I think that in many cases one of the more obvious (and near-permanent) inspirations for artwork and building - the sky - remains ignored.

Comments

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
dustincole's picture
Member since:
7 August 2004
Last activity:
3 years 14 weeks
Greg wrote:

This certainly isn't a new idea - Rappenglück's theory was headline news a decade ago. For some reason, archaeastronomy still seems to be often shunted into the corner when discussing the motivations of ancient people, with archaeologists favouring theories tightly bound to power structures or sexual symbolism.

Well Greg, I think that reason can easily be summed up by Jay Kinney's approach to history in his blog entry,"Do we want real history or lucid dreams?" Just replace the word, "history" with "archaeology", and the pieces of the puzzle fall right into place.

Jay Kinney wrote:

...I am not a professional historian - and let me be clear about that - but in some forty years of reading and studying history (accepted history, alternative history, esoteric history, and otherwise), I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom of the conservative approach to history that most historians take. (By “conservative” I don’t mean the politically ideological stance commonly associated with that term these days, but rather a cautious approach to what one accepts as a “proven fact.”)...

...Professional journalists are taught to seek out at least two separate and credible sources for any purported fact before giving it the time of day. We, as readers - and even more importantly as researchers - should be just as rigorous and selective, and possibly even more so...

...recent decades have blessed us with far too many half-baked books...When you have an essentially blank canvas, it is possible to paint nearly anything upon it...

We can't have too many half-baked idea's out there, Greg. And as a result of having all of these half baked ideas we should just accept the explanations that the conservative, cautious, archaeologists have already provided for us. Seed Magazine must not be cautious enough. Problem solved. See, it's simple eh?

Dustin

sidthecat's picture
Member since:
12 July 2010
Last activity:
1 year 41 weeks

One has to figure that they'd been looking at the stars for an awfully long time. Our minds associate things: the particular positions of the stars; the way the sunlight penetrates all the way to the back of the cave on ONE SINGLE MORNING - all this must have to do with when the things we hunt come back.

We make patterns of things that have no real relationship, and then the relationship becomes real. That may be the most wonderful thing about us.

Gwedd's picture
Member since:
8 April 2006
Last activity:
4 hours 41 min

The entire premise of the argument is based upon some ancient people associating a bull with that particular constellation.

I think some archeologist needs to get published and is really reaching for a story here.

I look at the paintings as just that: paintings, and associate no other explanation for them than the handiwork of some bored folks during a long wet or cold spell. Something to pass the time.

After all, how do humans most commonly amuse their children? by giving them paper and pencils or crayons and telling them to "draw something". Every parent learns this lesson, and it seems to me that the majority, if not all, of cave art is the result of kids and young adults (maybe even older adults) with time on their hands.

It's nice to think of this as some great meaningful experience, some glimpse at the religion and language of ancient peoples, but I'm not buying it.

Respects,
Gwedd

Shovelbum's picture
Member since:
9 July 2009
Last activity:
2 years 24 weeks

A healthy skepticism is a valuable ally in archaeology. Yet, while I must admit that there are probably numerous examples of prehistoric doodling, some of which may indeed have been blown, significance-wise, way out of proportion to their original purpose, it is presumptuous at best to state that the "majority, if not all" of "cave art" lacks a deeper meaning.

I have encountered others in my field who have, at one time or another, contended just that: That prehistoric art, whether pecked, painted or placed (as in Nazca), is little more than idle doodling with no 'real' meaning. Additional field work, and data interpretation that follows, tends to show - far more often than not - that claims such as these are quite false.

To the modern mind, firmly set it its modern context and fused to modern conventions of various kinds, it is difficult to attach real purpose to these things. We are as far removed from them as one can be from a thing. Yes, depictions such as these were probably used for story-telling purposes - sometimes. But there are often layers of meaning in even the simplest of 'doodles'. There are, to use one example, the places where in ancient times, paleo astronomy was occurring - and no doubt some form of philosophy as well. And there are no doubt places where spiritual activities were undertaken as well - something that is not well represented in the archaeological record.

Skepticism, as I said, is good. Hasty generalizations that fly in the face of oral histories and credible academic research - not so much.

Shovelbum

Kat's picture
Member since:
1 May 2004
Last activity:
7 weeks 1 day

Like the night sky, the Lascaux paintings would have been above and surrounding the viewers.

Scroll down here to the five Lascaux paintings.

The first photo, of hunters shooting leaping deer with bows and arrows, seems clearly instuctional to me:

Top human with a bow: If you don't have room in your blind/hiding-place to hold your bow upright, shoot horizontally while sitting with your back braced against a rock.

Second from top: If standing, you can rest one foot against a rock to brace yourself.

Third from top: If the situation calls for it, shoot while laying on your side, with the base of the bow clasped between your knees.

Bottom: Kneel on one knee to steady yourself.

In his blog-post Lunatics and Bureaucrats - about humanity's propensity to destroy its best art - David Apatoff says, "Lascaux contains about 600 paintings and 1,500 drawings that have survived for approximately 17,000 years."

After reading Apatoff's revelation about what's happened to Lascaux over the past eleven years, I can't help but wonder if any of the original Lascaux art still survives.

Kathrinn's picture
Member since:
10 August 2004
Last activity:
13 weeks 6 days

Thanks, Kat.

Regards, Kathrinn

red pill junkie's picture
Member since:
12 April 2007
Last activity:
25 min 26 sec

Why should we think all these amazing paintings were all done during the same period of time, or by the same person, or even for the same purposes?

Some of these images reveal a limited representational ability. Others however, were clearly made by a prehistoric Leonardo.

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
_______________
@red_pill_junkie

earthling's picture
Member since:
22 November 2004
Last activity:
2 weeks 6 days

Isn't there evidence that these paintings were made over a seriously long period of time?

If that is indeed the case, isn't it quite possible that the original meaning of the first of these paintings was already lost be the time the last of them were made?

----
We are the cat.

Kat's picture
Member since:
1 May 2004
Last activity:
7 weeks 1 day

Do you need to be spoon feed David Apatoff's revelation about Lascaux, in Lunatics and Bureaucrats? Fine. Here it is:

Finally. we come to the case of the Lascaux cave, probably the single greatest treasure trove of paleolithic art on the face of the earth.

[photo of Lascaux]

Lascaux contains about 600 paintings and 1,500 drawings that have survived for approximately 17,000 years. Since the cave was discovered in 1940, thousands of people from around the world have been awed by its beauty.

[photo of Lascaux]

In 1999, the French bureaucrats who administer the cave decided to install a new air conditioning system. By most accounts, it was a disaster. They selected a local contractor with no experience with caves. The workers were left unsupervised and ignored the pleas of the curators, tracking pollen in and out of the cave, leaving the door open, and piling up construction waste on the site. As Archaeology Magazine reported:

It is hardly surprising that by 2000, as soon as the work was completed... biological pollution appeared. Within a month a fungus, fusarium solani, characterized by white filaments, was growing on the cave walls.... Powdered quicklime was scattered on the floor to sterilize the cave, but this raised the temperature, further destabilizing the interior climate.... The new installation involved removing the roof from the chamber at the cave entrance.... exposing the cave to the impact of outside temperature variations. Consequently, water runs down the cave walls (and paintings) at times, followed by periods of extreme dryness.

If the French officials had been willing to admit their mistake, perhaps more could have been done to protect the art. However, as conditions in the cave deteriorated, the squabbling bureaucrats covered up their problems, barring scientific experts and cultural observers from inspecting the problem. Time magazine reported with frustration, "Nobody claims authorship of the decision to install the new machine."

[photo of Lascaux damage]

The deplorable conditions at Lascaux were brought to the attention of the world by a valiant and determined woman named Laurence Beasley, who founded the International Committee for the Preservation of Lascaux. She refused to be intimidated by the bureaucrats, and went all the way to UNESCO for help in rescuing the cave. As Archaeology Magazine reported,

In spite of the authorities' reluctance to admit their responsibility for today's crisis, and the way they have downplayed the seriousness of Lascaux's position, the ICPL has succeeded in exposing the cave's dire condition and alerting the public.... A spokesperson for the ministry of culture has repeatedly denied that there is damage to, or fungi on, the paintings, despite clear photographic and eyewitness evidence. At one point the ministry of culture claimed the fungi have "disappeared naturally," yet restorers were still working in the caves three days a week, manually removing the fungi by their roots-- extractions that have left dark marks and circles on the paintings. Clearly the public has not been told the truth.

I commend to you the important work of Laurence and her nonprofit organization. Visit her web site. Read about Lascaux and sign her petition. Make a contribution if you feel like it. (Full disclosure: as a lawyer, I do pro bono work for the ICPL because I believe in their cause but as always, I am solely responsible for the opinions on this blog.)

Gentle and beautiful objects have many natural enemies in this world. I don't know whether the greater threat to art comes from lunatics with knives and acid, or from cold bureaucrats and civil servants protecting their turf and hiding their incompetence.

Gwedd's picture
Member since:
8 April 2006
Last activity:
4 hours 41 min

Kat,

It is, in every instance, ALWAYS the government that is the greater evil. The mindless bureaucracies that are spawned in ever-increasing numbers by expansive and intrusive governments care nothing for their charges. Their one and only consideration is that the forms be filled in correctly, and the spreadsheets conform to acceptable practice. Everything else, and I truly mean EVERYTHING (and everyone) is seconded in their mindsets.

In my own nation, I am of the opinion that only a complete destruction and rebuilding of the government, in line with the Constitution, will allow for the furtherance of liberty and the advance of the people in an enlightened nation.

Any solution is preferable to that which involves the government.

respects,

Respects,
Gwedd

Greg's picture
Member since:
30 April 2004
Last activity:
6 hours 40 min
Gwedd wrote:

In my own nation, I am of the opinion that only a complete destruction and rebuilding of the government, in line with the Constitution, will allow for the furtherance of liberty and the advance of the people in an enlightened nation.

Watch yourself Gwedd - said government may have hypothetical agencies who may or may not be scanning internet communications and may or may not take a dim view of said 'complete destruction' of government. Need I go into hypothetical black bag over head and non-existent flight to Saudi Arabia...
;P

Kind regards,
Greg
-------------------------------------------
You monkeys only think you're running things
@DailyGrail