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Writing Sem Penn Final Portfolio


Submitted By windo
Words 1609
Pages 7
Olivia Wind
Fakes and Forgeries in Archaeology
Miriam Clinton
Draft 2 of 2 (Final)

Paleolithic Cave Art and its Implications on Human Animal Relationships

Unraveling the mystery of the Upper Paleolithic period is a task that proves exciting yet frustrating. Much of the culture of the Upper Paleolithic people remains unknown to modern day humans. Remnants of these people’s past can be found displayed across walls and crafted into figurines within caves throughout Western Europe. The fine art crafted by these people is impressive and reflective of their intellect. Most of the artwork found belonging to this time period depicts animals or mythical beasts. Upper Paleolithic societies had some kind of relationship with animals and studying these relationships can provide interesting information about different Upper Paleolithic cultures. Kenneth Feder, Amy Paterson and Patricia Rice, Michael Balter, and Nicholas Conrad all discuss possible implications of the artwork in their respective writing. All four sources agree that cave art provides insight into the human animal relationship of the Upper Paleolithic period. One primary relationship researchers have been working for decades to illuminate is the connection between artwork and the hunting patterns of the ancient people that made it. In their research, Rice and Paterson explore the interrelationships between cave art and bones, and try to determine what information can be extracted from them. In their report, they consider reindeer, horse, bovines, red deer, ibex, and mammoth. These animals make up over ninety percent of the animals portrayed in the artwork and the majority of the excavated bone debris. The link between the art and bone data represents the human hunting patterns of the Upper Paleolithic people. Rice and Patterson did extensive statistical analysis as an attempt to find correlations between cave art and bone debris. Their results indicated that the bone debris and artwork from the same geographic area can tell us about the hunting patterns of the ancient people. Their statistical analyses show that there is a high art-weight correlation and differential correlation by species between relative art and bone prevalence. More simply, this tells us first that larger animals, which were often portrayed in artwork, were preferred for hunting. Secondly, it tells us the bones found from the same geographic region commonly are from the same animals portrayed in the artwork. The findings are consistent with the idea that the art is related to the importance of hunting for the Upper Paleolithic people. In such a primitive time, hunting was vital to the people for food and resources. It follows that if the hunting patterns of the Upper Paleolithic people can be determined, the diets of these people can be inferred and studied. M.P. Richards, author of “Stable Isotope Evidence...” collected data and the proportionality importance of certain foodstuffs from distinct habitats. Fish pendants from Gravettian at Holni Vestonice and Pavlov in the Czech Republic indicate that fish might have become a dietary stable. Isotope data shows the increased likelihood of seafood in their diets. That is, one can assess the proportion of aquatic resources in the diets of prehistoric people through analyses of bone collagen carbon and nitrogen stable isotope values. Potential oceanic resources were fish, mollusks, and invertebrates. Richards claims, “This trend is correlated with, and probably interrelated with, elaborations in material culture during the mid-Upper Paleolithic, including lavishly decorated burials, abundant personal ornamentation, ceramic figurines, and textiles of knotted cord.” This scientific data support the hypothesis that the animals represented in artwork is meaningful in terms of the hunting and dietary patterns of the people. With appropriate methodology and understanding of the culture, the artwork can tell us about the Upper Paleolithic people’s diets and hunting patterns.
When analyzing the paintings and figurines of the Upper Paleolithic time period, the four sources have come up with possible theories by comparing the cave art to bone debris. All four sources show that the data has a high potential for differential interpretation and, as such, it is possible to form multiple conclusions from the same information. The bone debris in these caves is complementary evidence to the artwork. The large overlap suggests that there must have been lots of spiritual, hunting, and social relationships between the animals and people of the Upper Paleolithic. Feder openly states that he believes there is a correlation between animals depicted on the walls and remains of animals killed and eaten. Balter uses cave-bear bone debris to make relationships with the extinct animals represented in cave art. Balter says, “Archaeologists have long debated whether humans hunted cave bears, worshipped them, or had some other relationship with these now-extinct animals.” Within the cave of Chauvet, there are at least fifteen certain drawings of cave bears. The abundance of evidence alone proves that there was an extensive relationship between the cave bears and people of the Chauvet. Rice and Patterson adamantly believe that studying bone debris from the same geographic area as Paleolithic artwork can give important implications on the artwork’s function. Rice and Paterson state that “Although art and bones are two different classes of material culture, they are linked by human hunting patterns-bones representing the essential and art representing the symbolic aspects of hunted animals” These three sources all imply that hunting these animals had something do with their vast portrayals. When analyzing sculptures from southwestern Germany, Conrad analyzes pieces of debris from ivory workings to hypothesize substantial habitation sites of the people. The discovery of sculptures carved from bone debris can help archaeologists determine what kind of animals the people were coexisting with. Intelligent hypotheses can be made regarding how the Upper Paleolithic people chose what types of animal bones to carve for their sculptures. Upper Paleolithic artwork also can tell us about the social relationships between animals and people. Michael Balter shows how art in the Upper Paleolithic period has symbolic meaning. He cites Tosello regarding the Chauvet Horse Panel saying “The animals appear on the wall in a certain order, like characters coming on stage during a play”. Tosello hypothesizes that the people, most likely bison hunters, could have identified with the lions and wished to emulate their hunting abilities. The Chauvet Horse Panel has been deeply analyzed in hopes to discover possible meanings of the beautiful depiction. Porr takes a metaphorical analyzing perspective when attempting to explain the artwork. He believes that the artwork indicates that Aurignacian people made links between males and lions and females and mammoths. Porr emphasizes how tusks are often neglected in depictions of mammoths to show their femaleness. Porr also analyzes the double burial of two newborns. The burial contained mammoth bones and the burned scapula of an adult mammoth. Porr believes that that this burial shows the importance of the mammoth in regards to life cycle events such as birth and death. This evidence exemplifies the intimate connections between humans and animals expressed through both figurative representations and through animal remains. Halverson also notes that there are important things to be recognized in depictions of animals. He emphasizes that animals are only portrayed in their adult, living form and that the artists were unconcerned with sexual differentiation. In his introduction to Upper Paleolithic art, Feder mentions the existence of depictions of part-human/part-animal creatures. There are multiple intelligent interpretations as to why these human-animal hybrids were created. For example, some believe that the depictions might reflect possible shamanism. Picking up on these small details can tell us a lot about the way animals and people interacted during this time period. Even though we can’t be sure of the animal-human contact, it is evident that there was a clear infatuation with some of the animals
Due to the vast majority of the artwork containing animals, it is clear that much can be deduced about the people’s relationships with animals. The artifacts from the Upper Paleolithic will most likely forever remain a mystery to archaeologists. The dynamic and attitudes towards animals are very different nowadays than they were in the Upper Paleolithic time period. Perhaps a correlation can be drawn between the way these primitive cultures in Europe treated animals the way our own Native Americans treated them on our continent in North America. The Indians would use the entire animal not only for food, but for clothes and tools as well. Thousands of years have passed and a lot of the world is different. This changing relationship can help us understand the changes in humanity over time. It tells us how our values have changed and gives us something to measure our principles by. It’s important to understand the beliefs of our ancestors in order to be able to project where we are headed as a species.


Balter, Michael. “Going Deeper into the Grotte Chauvet.” Science 321 (2008): 904-905.

Conard, Nicholas. “Paleolithic ivory sculptures from southwestern Germany and the origins of figurative art.” Nature 426 (2003): 830-832.

Feder, Kenneth. Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology. 8th ed. New York:McGraw-Hill. 2014.

Halverson, John. "Paleolithic Art and Cognition." The Journal of Psychology 126, no. 3 (1991): 221-36.

Porr, Martin. “The Hohle Fels 'Venus': Some Remarks on Animals, Humans and Metaphorical Relationships in Early Upper Paleolithic Art.” Rock Art Research 27, no. 2 (2010) : 147-159.

Rice, P., and A. Paterson. “Cave Art and Bones: Exploring the Interrelationships.” American Anthropologist 88 (1985): 94-100.

Richards, M. P., and Pettit P. B., and Stiner M. C., and Trinkaus E. "Stable Isotope Evidence for Increasing Dietary Breadth in the European Mid-Upper Paleolithic." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2001, 6528-532.

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