Philobiblon: Stepping into a paleolithic 'parlour'

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Stepping into a paleolithic 'parlour'

... well temple perhaps is a better word.

I was reading 'The Mind in the Cave', as mentioned yesterday, because I was in southwest France, not far from the Peche-Merle caves, the best original paintings that can now be seen, since Lascaux is closed.

What the texts I've read on the paintings don't emphasis is the glorious nature of the caves themselves: all the standard limestone features of stalagmites and 'tites, and also the incredible difficulties the "artists" had in getting to the sites that they did.

One area of Pech-Merle required a kilometre-long crawl along a narrow space in which you could not even lift your head: the experience of the first person to go along that, not having any idea at all of what he or she might encounter, with only a flickering torch, hardly bears thinking about, and even for those who came after it must have been terrifying.

Then some of the finger-scratchings in the ceiling, which could only have been done by climbing a pile of enormous, apparently precariously balanced boulders. A fall would surely have resulted in a broken leg at the least, and could you have then got out? (There is apparently evidence of some scaffolding in some caves, but here the position suggests the drawer must have climbed on the rocks.)

The paintings themselves frequently show considerable artistic ability, just a single line can suggest the entire shape of a mammoth's head, or the haunch of a deer. (I'm particularly alert to this since I utterly lack it myself - I love art, but I can't draw.)

I would one day love to learn more about the paleolithic experience, and maybe even write about it: most of the fictional representations of which I am aware are disappointing.

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