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domingo 17 octubre 2021

Bertan > Bertan 15 Los orígenes del arte en Gipuzkoa > Versión en inglés: Why did stone age man choose to paint and carve in the depths of the caves?

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Why did stone age man choose to paint and carve in the depths of the caves?

One of the most fundamental of all questions related to cave art is simply “Why?”. It is also one of the most difficult to answer. We are far removed from the mindset of the artists of Ekain and Altxerri and it is not easy to guess their purposes, joys, fears, and the world of representations in which they lived.

These figures were certainly not mere decorations. If they had been, they would have been painted at the entrance to the cave where they could be admired by all. Instead, the artists went deep into the interior of the cave. They must have had some other motive.

One of the explanations most frequently propounded for cave art involves “hunting magic”. According to this interpretation, by representing the figure, the hunters gained a certain control over it. They controlled the effigy and could better control the real animal when they hunted it. If they injured it, success would be easier. They may also have believed that the real animal would come to the represented animal and they could thus find their prey nearer the cave.

In Ekain, however, this theory comes up against a problem. Most of the remains from the human settlement at the entrance to the cave come from deer and ibexes. There are very few bison remains and even fewer remains of horses. This would seem to lend more credence to the totemic theory, according to which the horse was the totem of the people of Ekain. The totem is sacred. Non-initiates cannot see it. This is why it is hidden in the sanctuary. In Ekain the totem would have been the horse. This is why it was represented in the depths of the cave and this is why it was not hunted. But why is it so often shown wounded? In Ekain there are many examples of horse figures pierced with darts or spears. Furthermore, the cave does not contain only one species of animals. There are also bison, ibexes, deer, bears, fish and others.

Some theorists believe that palaeolithic art is based on a dual system. In the case of Ekain, Group V of Altxerri, the alcove in Satimamiñe and many other sites, this duality consisted of the horse and the bison. According to Leroi-Gourhan, this duality, which is also supported in symbols, represents the sexual duality of nature. But nature also contains other dualities: life and death, light and dark, pleasure and pain....

Recently, there has been an attempt to relate this art with shamanism. The shaman system, which still exists amongst many peoples, sees the universe as being structured in different levels, corresponding to superimposed or parallel worlds and holds that the powers that live in those worlds can influence our own. According to this belief, certain people, under certain conditions, can make contact with those powers. This contact may be by means of auxiliary spirits that sometimes take the form of animals and appear to the shaman. He identifies with them and can even send his soul to the other world to meet them and ask for their protection. This journey, which is made in a state of trance, can be made in collective ceremonies or in solitude.

It would be hazardous to try to apply one single explanation to all the wide and varied examples of palaeolithic art, executed as they were over the space of several millennia. In reality, all theories make the same mistake. They all attempt to explain everything with just one idea. Perhaps, as in so many other cases, we should accept that all the different theories probably contain part of the truth: that these people practised magic and were concerned by a sexually structured living world, but that they also had a great interest in artistic creation. Many of the palaeolithic figures are so perfect that they cannot have been executed without a prior apprenticeship and probably without schools, and this is also reflected in different styles over space and time. Their creators were unquestionably artists. And just as classical artists decorated Greek and Roman temples and Christian artists of all eras have executed Biblical figures and scenes, thus uniting religion and art, so prehistoric man associated his religion with his art. The problem is that it is so much more difficult to penetrate the thoughts of these early artists.

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