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Cave Art 101
Life timeline and Nature timeline Cueva de las Monedas Nearly caves have now been discovered in France and Spain that contain art from prehistoric times. Initially, the age of the paintings had been a contentious issue, since methods like radiocarbon dating can produce misleading results if contaminated by samples of older or newer material,  and caves and rocky overhangs where parietal art is found are typically littered with debris from many time periods. But subsequent technology has made it possible to date the paintings by sampling the pigment itself, torch marks on the walls,  or the formation of carbonate deposits on top of the paintings . The subject matter can also indicate chronology: It has been dated using the uranium-thorium method  to older than 67, years  and was made by a Neanderthal. The oldest date given to an animal cave painting is now a pig with a minimum age of 35, years, at Timpuseng cave in Sulawesi, an Indonesian island. The earliest known European figurative cave paintings are those of Chauvet Cave in France. The radiocarbon dates from these samples show that there were two periods of creation in Chauvet: One of the surprises was that many of the paintings were modified repeatedly over thousands of years, possibly explaining the confusion about finer paintings that seemed to date earlier than cruder ones. Some caves probably continued to be painted over a period of several thousands of years. This was created roughly between 10, and 5, years ago, and painted in rock shelters under cliffs or shallow caves, in contrast to the recesses of deep caves used in the earlier and much colder period. Though individual figures are less naturalistic, they are grouped in coherent grouped compositions to a much greater degree. Subjects, themes and patterns[ edit ] Spanish cave painting of bulls. The most common subjects in cave paintings are large wild animals, such as bison , horses , aurochs , and deer , and tracings of human hands as well as abstract patterns, called finger flutings. The species found most often were suitable for hunting by humans, but were not necessarily the actual typical prey found in associated deposits of bones; for example, the painters of Lascaux have mainly left reindeer bones, but this species does not appear at all in the cave paintings, where equine species are the most common. Drawings of humans were rare and are usually schematic as opposed to the more detailed and naturalistic images of animal subjects. One explanation for this may be that realistically painting the human form was "forbidden by a powerful religious taboo. O'Hara, geologist, suggests in his book Cave Art and Climate Change that climate controlled the themes depicted. Sometimes the silhouette of the animal was incised in the rock first, and in some caves all or many of the images are only engraved in this fashion, taking them somewhat out of a strict definition of "cave painting". Similarly, large animals are also the most common subjects in the many small carved and engraved bone or ivory less often stone pieces dating from the same periods. But these include the group of Venus figurines , which have no real equivalent in cave paintings. These are often found in the same caves as other paintings, or may be the only form of painting in a location. Some walls contain many hand stencils. Similar hands are also painted in the usual fashion. A number of hands show a finger wholly or partly missing, for which a number of explanations have been given. Another theory, developed by David Lewis-Williams and broadly based on ethnographic studies of contemporary hunter-gatherer societies, is that the paintings were made by paleolithic shamans. Dale Guthrie, who has studied both highly artistic and lower quality art and figurines, identifies a wide range of skill and age among the artists. He hypothesizes that the main themes in the paintings and other artifacts powerful beasts, risky hunting scenes and the representation of women in the Venus figurines are the work of adolescent males, who constituted a large part of the human population at the time.
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