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Posts Tagged ‘cave paintings’

You know about my love of prehistoric cave paintings. The famous images at Chauvet were painted over 30,000 years ago – quite a distance in time. This makes it all the more astonishing that painting kits used about 100,000 years ago have been discovered in a cave in South Africa, evidence not just of the production of art and the presence of a symbolic imagination, but also of an ability to mix chemicals and store materials.

Etologic horse study from cave at Chauvet

This is the abstract describing the research in Science.

The conceptual ability to source, combine, and store substances that enhance technology or social practices represents a benchmark in the evolution of complex human cognition. Excavations in 2008 at Blombos Cave, South Africa, revealed a processing workshop where a liquefied ochre-rich mixture was produced and stored in two Haliotis midae (abalone) shells 100,000 years ago. Ochre, bone, charcoal, grindstones, and hammerstones form a composite part of this production toolkit. The application of the mixture is unknown, but possibilities include decoration and skin protection.

Ian Sample comments:

Two sets of implements for preparing red and yellow ochres to decorate animal skins, body parts or perhaps cave walls were excavated at the Blombos cave on the Southern Cape near the Indian Ocean.

The stone and bone tools for crushing, mixing and applying the pigments were uncovered alongside the shells of giant sea snails that had been used as primitive mixing pots. The snails are indigenous to South African waters.

“This is the first known instance for deliberate planning, production and curation of a compound,” Christopher Henshilwood at the University of Bergen told Science, adding that the finding also marked the first known use of containers. “It’s early chemistry. It casts a whole new light on early Homo sapiens and tells us they were probably a lot more intelligent than we think, and capable of carrying out quite sophisticated acts at least 40,000 to 50,000 years before any other known example of this kind of basic chemistry,” he added.

“You could use this type of mixture to prepare animal skins, to put on as body paint, or to paint on the walls of the cave, but it is difficult to be sure how it was used,” said Francesco d’Errico, a study co-author at the University of Bordeaux. “The discovery is a paradox because we now know much better how the pigment was made than what it is used for.”

So we were there, we Homo sapiens, 100,000 years ago – imagining, thinking, planning, cooperating, collecting, mixing, experimenting, storing, painting; and whatever else this painting led into…

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Despite enjoying Toy Story 3, I am still not convinced by 3D cinema. In fact the reason I managed to enjoy the film so much was because the 3D was far less intrusive than with most films.

David Mitchell has a rant here about 3D films. It’s well worth watching. There are some serious points amidst the humour, e.g. that the effect of 3D is to make you more conscious of your own relationship to the medium, and less able to lose yourself and escape into the world of the narrative.

He draws a parallel with painting and sculpture: when you go to see the Mona Lisa you don’t come away disappointed by the fact that Leonardo didn’t present you with a marble carving of the subject instead. You went to see a painting, and you were happy with that.

My main gripe is about picture quality – it simply isn’t as good with 3D films. And I think this is unavoidable, it’s not to do with the present state of technology. It’s because of the double image that you are seeing. You might say that our eyes see the natural world stereoscopically, which is true. But part of the wonder of painting, of 2D cinema, and of any flat visual surface, is that it gives you a clarity that is not possible in the natural world, which has the effect of highlighting the scene before you.

Painting and 2D cinema allow a depth, or rather a super-imposition of different depths, which creates a sort of hyper-realism. They allow you to focus on what you would not, naturally, be able to focus on. 3D, by making the experience more like the real world, takes away the magic and immediacy of the artistic surface, the same magic that they discovered 20,000 years ago in the caves of Lascaux.

I dread the day when all the films at the local Cineworld will be in 3D…

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