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In any case, they wouldn’t have needed to contest their boundless hunting grounds.They also thought up the grease lamp—a lump of fat, with a plant wick, placed in a hollow stone—to light their workplace; scaffolds to reach high places; the principles of stencilling and Pointillism; powdered colors, brushes, and stumping cloths; and, more to the point of Picasso’s insight, the very concept of an image.A true artist reimagines that concept with every blank canvas—but not from a void.Some caves have rock porches that were used for shelter, but there is no evidence of domestic life in their depths.Sizable groups may have visited the chambers closest to the entrance—perhaps for communal rites—and we know from the ubiquitous handprints that were stamped or airbrushed (using the mouth to blow pigment) on the walls that people of both sexes and all ages, even babies, participated in whatever activities took place.
Only a few individuals ventured or were permitted into the furthest reaches of a cave—in some cases, walking or crawling for miles. If they bypassed certain walls that to us seem just as suitable for decoration as ones they chose, the placement of the art apparently wasn’t capricious.In the course of some twenty-five thousand years, the same animals—primarily bison, stags, aurochs, ibex, horses, and mammoths—recur in similar poses, illustrating an immortal story.A frieze of horses and rhinos near the Chauvet cave’s Megaloceros Gallery, where artists may have gathered to make charcoal for drawing.Chauvet contains the earliest known paintings, from at least thirty-two thousand years ago.No one can say what the encounters between that low-browed, herculean species and their slighter but formidable successors were like.
(Paleolithic artists, despite their penchant for naturalism, rarely chose to depict human beings, and then did so with a crudeness that smacks of mockery, leaving us a mirror but no self-reflection.) Their genomes are discrete, so it appears that either the two populations didn’t mate or they couldn’t conceive fertile offspring.