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Prehistoric cave art grabs the eye. Vivid colours, dramatic murals, and fascinating surrounding all make it incredible to see. Small wonder people around the world made it for tens of thousands of years. But was it this awe alone that drove them to create this art? Or were they motivated by something else?

The cave of Altamira, populated by very sophisticated cavemen (and women)
The cave of Altamira, populated by very sophisticated cavemen (and women)

A lot of effort has been spent trying to figure out why people made cave art, with archaeologists studying the subject for more than 100 years. Despite all this research, we sadly haven’t found a definitive answer (and likely never will). However, there are many good hypotheses.

Here my favourite six.

1. Cave art or cave graffiti?

Cave art was first found in the 19th century, and immediately people began searching for an explanation. The first, and for a long time most popular, was “art for art’s sake”1.

(actually, the first explanation for cave art was “it’s a hoax”, but that’s a story for another time).

As the name implies, the idea is that cave art was its own reward for the people making it. Many Victorian artists also embraced this philosophy, arguing that art should be made for its own sake. This also got wrapped up in their ideas about human superiority, suggesting we’re great because we have a creative spark. Art is its inevitable result1.

Since the 19th century this idea has fallen out of favour, given the incredible amount of effort people invested in the art. They created scaffolding to reach high areas, ventured into deep, dark and dangerous areas (which involved the invention of the oil lamp) and much more. Clearly, many argued, they were investing too much in this artwork just for it to be a doodle2.

Cave art scaffolding
Post holes in cave walls indicate prehistoric people were building structures like this to make cave art. Don’t be fooled by the fact this reconstruction isn’t actually in a cave

2. Drugs

Many explanations for cave art focus on the pictures that actually look like something.

Some lions from Chauvet cavet
Some lions from Chauvet cavet

However, a good chunk of cave art is a lot more abstract, consisting of repetitive shapes and patterns. In fact, the oldest cave art made by Homo sapiens consists of a few circular splotches. What’s up with that?

Circles from El Castillo, possibly the oldest cave art made by modern humans
Images from El Castillo, possibly the oldest cave art made by modern humans

Well, it turns out similar patterns are seen in San hunter-gatherer rituals. Their “shamans” will use drugs or dance to enter a hallucinogenic state, where they can communicate with spirits. When artists depict these visions, these patterns start cropping up3.

Could this explain prehistoric cave art? In theory, it should. After all, everyone has a similar so will experience a similar thing when on the same drugs.

To test these visions really were universal, researchers did the only sensible thing and got high themselves. Sure enough, they experienced many of the same patterns seen by both the San and in cave art; suggesting both were the result of similar behaviour3.

Images witnessed whilst on drugs (left) and those seen in cave art (right)3.

So it seemed like everything was settled. At least, until others noted that of all only a tiny proportion of these visions matched cave art. Additionally, the drugs that were used in these tests were modern synthetics that unavailable to cave artists, raising doubts about how “universal” these symbols actually are3.

3. Cave art was a prehistoric encyclopedia

With the ritual hypothesis in trouble, some suggested that there was a more practical reason for the artwork. Perhaps they served as a way to record what animals looked like and how they behaved. In many cases, their feet are also twisted sideways, revealing the tracks they made4.

Lascaux horse cave art
A horse from Lascaux with unnaturally rotated feet so you can see what kind of tracks it would leave behind

An “encyclopedia” like this might’ve been very helpful when young hunters were learning how to track. Even older hunters could’ve benefitted from it, as climate change meant many species disappeared for generations. A record like this would keep the knowledge of how to hunt them alive4.

A good chunk of evidence comes from the fact that cave art is often incredibly accurate. In fact, they knew more than us in some cases. One set of drawings depicted spotted horses; which people always thought were a modern development. That is until genetic analysis revealed there was spotted horses back in the Palaeolithic!

25,000 year old spotted horses from Pech Merle

This realism would’ve been enhanced by the 3D nature of this art. It was typically drawn on rough surfaces, giving it that extra dimension. When looking at it under modern lighting, it doesn’t seem that significant. However, under a flickering flame, the shadows would’ve really made the images come to life5.

In fact, some artists may have even exploited these flickering shadows to create the illusion of animation. Some drawings actually consist of several animals overlain on each other. As the light passes over it, perhaps different parts would become visible, creating the worlds first GIF5.

An overlain image from Chauvet5.

4. Prehistoric pareidolia

An encyclopedia might explain some of the cave art, but what about all the weird symbols? The stuff people thought was made on drugs? These have an equally long (pre)history, with some of these patterns even predating modern humans!

What could possibly explain an artistic tradition that lasts so long?

500,000 year old shell engravings likely made by Homo erectus

One popular idea is that these represent an advanced form of pareidolia. As our brain evolved, it became excellent at recognising certain shapes common in the landscape and our tools. Shapes like X, L, and T.

Ultimately, our brain evolved a dedicated “visual word form area” (VWFA) to spot these shapes. As a result of this, we find them very appealing as they resonate with the VWFA. Hence why early humans started drawing these shapes6.

The VWFA lighting up in response to natural scenes that feature X, Y, and T shapes6.

However, this is actually hinting at deeper changes in our ancestors’ brains that would go on to make writing possible. This part of the brain would be later co-opted by writing; helping us quickly process letter shapes. Hence why X, L, and T are now letters, and many letters are just combinations of those shapes6.

Letter categories that can be made with X,L & T that form the foundation of most written language7.

Of course, some just cut out the middle man and suggest these symbols might be an early form of writing itself.

5. Cave art is sexy

Darwin’s default explanation for everything was sexual selection. Why do some birds have big dumb tails? Because it’s sexy to the other birds. Why do men have beards? Sexy. Weird bugs? You guessed it, sexual selection8.

The general premise is something called costly signalling. The idea being that these weird features reflect some valuable attribute and are too costly or otherwise difficult to fake.

Typically, these aspects are intertwined. A weird feature is an indicator of mate quality because it is costly to maintain, showing they must be pretty awesome to survive despite it.

A 12-wired bird of paradise, a classic example of sexual selection.

You can probably see where this is going. Could cave art be the same thing? It requires substantial time and investment to make. Pigments are often imported from kilometres away. Plus, you need the spare time to trek into the cave to make the art, and the skill and dexterity to do it8.

All of these show you’re skilled, dedicated, capable of long-distance travel, and a good enough hunter-gatherer to have all this free time yet still carry out all the activities needed for survival8.

Everything that would make a prehistoric person sexy.

6. When in doubt, it’s a ritual

With all of these competing ideas, some archaeologists prefer to fall back on our default explanation. If we aren’t quite sure what something is, claim it’s part of a ritual.

It must be true, there’s a meme about it

Although I joke, there’s actually quite a bit of evidence in support of this hypothesis.

For example, many caves – such as the famous site of Chauvet – were never inhabited by people, being used only for art. Perhaps these were sacred locales9. After all, many do face the same way, like modern sacred buildings10. Children also seem to have been commonly involved, based on the sizes of the hands responsible for some art. This would make sense if it were a ritualistic, since most societies feature a “coming of age” ceremony kids take part in11.

Finger flute cave art, made by people running their fingers through soft rock. The thickness of the fingers implies this was mostly children10.

Ultimately, all these different explanations probably stem from the fact that there were just lots of reasons people made cave art. If you asked why people made modern art, you’d get a thousand different answers. Why should artists from the stone age be any different?


  1. Bahn, P. 1998. The Cambridge Illustrated History of Prehistoric Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  2. White, R. H., (2003). Prehistoric Art: the Symbolic Journey of Humankind. New York: Harry N. Abrams
  3. Lewis-Williams, et al. 1988. The Signs of All Times: Entoptic Phenomena in Upper Palaeolithic Art [and Comments and Reply]. Current Anthropology,29(2):201-245.
  4. Mithen, S. 1988. Looking and learning: Upper Palaeolithic art and information gathering. World Archaeology, 19(3):297-327
  5. Azéma, M. and Rivère, F., 2012. Animation in Palaeolithic art: a pre-echo of cinema. Antiquity86(332), pp.316-324.
  6. Hodgson, D., 2019. The origin, significance, and development of the earliest geometric patterns in the archaeological record. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports24, pp.588-592.
  7. Changizi, M.A., Zhang, Q., Ye, H. and Shimojo, S., 2006. The structures of letters and symbols throughout human history are selected to match those found in objects in natural scenes. The American Naturalist167(5), pp.E117-E139.
  8. Straffon, L.M., 2019. Evolution and the Origins of Visual Art: An Archaeological Perspective. In Handbook of Evolutionary Research in Archaeology (pp. 407-435). Springer, Cham.
  9. Zorich, Z. 2011. A Chauvet Primer. Archaeology, 65(2).
  10. Hayden, B., & Villeneuve, S. (2011). Astronomy in the Upper Palaeolithic?.Cambridge Archaeological Journal21(03), 331-355
  11. Bednarik, R. 2008. Children as Pleistocene artists. Rock Art Research, 25(2):173-18

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mgm75 · 23rd July 2013 at 6:27 pm

Thanks for this. One of my major frustrations in moving away from my interest in the palaeolithic was the focus on too much theorising over parietal and mobiliary art. I found the theorists far too much of a reflection of the political eras they were studying in and ultimately tragic that they could rarely see it. I would love to see Altamira some day, and Lascaux too (though I understand that the public can’t visit this any more and that the French government have created a superb replica).

    Adam Benton · 23rd July 2013 at 8:56 pm

    I don’t think that’s necessarily a problem restricted to art research. Many palaeanthropologists studying a range of topics tend to become rather wrapped up in their own theory, overstating the confidence with which it should be held. Evolutionary psychology in particular is susceptible to this. Don’t get me wrong, most of these are good ideas worth investigating, they just aren’t as well supported as some researchers would have you believe. That’s why I try to remain a bit wary of these ideas, without being outright dismissive.

    And yes, you are correct. Only the replica Lascaux can be visited these days (although it is of almost perfect quality). I hear they’re building a second one to cope with demand. You can still go in the original Chauvet, since they found it recently and were able to put in safe guards before thousands of people ruined the place.

      Anonymous · 7th April 2016 at 10:59 pm

      don’t understand.

    klrickard · 21st June 2016 at 9:44 pm


Ralph Gironda · 23rd July 2013 at 7:57 pm

I must say it was yesterday that I commented to myself I have not received an email from you since that awful interview of the two fundamentalists. It took me some time to recover from their ineptness. However, I believe that each work of art-or each cluster of art- should be viewed as an individual expression. The evidence should be interpreted individually. But I would go with ritualistic interpretations, but leave room for graffiti and others.

    Adam Benton · 23rd July 2013 at 9:00 pm

    I’m glad someone missed me, although you’ll be displeased to hear that there are plans for me to have another chat with those fundamentalists. Hopefully without the connection problems, so I can try and form a cogent point this time!

    Although ritual is a good explanation that can probably account for an awful lot of the art, I think most people underestimate just how much fun it is. I’ve had a chance to go cave painting in my universities new palaeolithic lab and it is brilliant. After spending 3 hours playing with pigment and laughing with friends “art for art’s sake” seems a lot more plausible than other researchers seem to suggest.

      Ralph Gironda · 24th July 2013 at 5:06 pm

      When I first started my studies in archaeology if an archaeologist found a large building it was label a temple without too much investigation. Now there are so many applications to a site it cannot be that much misinterpreted. There have been chemical studies of many prehistoric paintings and this has improved interpretation immensely. After all discoveries in archaeology come about when new technologies are applied to the archaeological record.
      As for your interview I really think that both of you were unprepared only because in an interview it would be best to have the questions know and the answers prepared before you start. This would bring to the interview some sense of clearance and flow.
      FYI: I will be taking a course in Human Evolution from Coursea this September. Looking forward to it.

      Adam Benton · 24th July 2013 at 11:14 pm

      Whilst technology has undoubtedly been a huge boon to archaeology I think some of the most significant changes are changes in attitude. Of increasing skepticism towards many of the ideas which were simply asserted in the past. For example (you’ll have to forgive me, I can’t remember the names) for years people had been claiming a particular artefact was a lunar calender. Then someone came along and just said “hang on a minute, can we be sure about that?” and it turns out we couldn’t.

      I did try and organise a more focused discussion beforehand, but they refused to be specific about what they wanted to talk about. And lo, we wound up spending half of it talking about what makes someone good. Which is a topic I’m obviously very knowledgeable about.

      mgm75 · 25th July 2013 at 10:37 am

      Adam, you don’t mean the Sky Disc by any chance? this weird thing. I remember looking at this in one of my second year lectures on arch. theory.

        Adam Benton · 25th July 2013 at 7:06 pm

        The one I was referring too is an antler from La Marche. I don’t think it has a special name

      Edward Wilcock · 6th May 2014 at 6:58 pm

      The answer is – because they had ample time on their hands so why shouldn’t they paint on stone.
      Why is there so much writen about this, going off at tangents and concluding nothing.

        Adam Benton · 16th May 2014 at 5:10 pm

        The big reason for looking into this is that some of these explanations imply that these people had symbolism; which in turn is a strong indicator of language. Language is unique to humans, so figuring out how and why that developed is fascinating.

        Linda Stanley · 13th July 2016 at 8:45 am

        I think the picture drawings were the predecessor of writing. The paintings were their way of telling a story for others who came after. I don’t suppose they were thinking the paintings would be there for so many thousands of years though.

        Adam Benton · 14th July 2016 at 2:43 pm

        There may well be some similarities between writing and cave art, but there are also a great many differences. There’s no real syntax in cave art, for example. So it doesn’t seem to be directly ancestral; even though it may have been the breeding ground for some other ideas.

      KRD · 3rd August 2014 at 3:00 am

      I have no idea who you people are but the question of why did prehistoric “man” create is simply answered by the question, Why did historical man create the apple computer, the pill the bomb the stock market the welfare state ext ect ect….You may say, money but then that still answers the question. Your problem is that you believe man is somehow advanced neurologically beyond those who painted cave walls. You live in the simulacra. Also, if you believe fundamentalism is a primitive beliefs of fools why talk to them. You are so willing to believe that all of everything comes from an exploding particle infinitely small but the idea of turning water to wine is the beliefs of idiots. When you explain without question how the big bang is possible I will turn my back on Christ. PS I do believe in math and physics and I am not a good Christian.

        Adam Benton · 4th August 2014 at 10:13 pm

        The big mystery surrounding cave art is because it’s the first time humans started doing something like this. The question isn’t so much “why did the make cave art?” but “why did they start?” Did something change in their brains, their culture or their technology? Or was it the natural progression of existing phenomena? Whilst we don’t know the answer there is a lot of evidence to suggest that it wasn’t a neurological change. The people who made the first cave art are the same as us, mentally. Which just makes it all the more fascinating.

        And I don’t think fundamentalists are idiots. There’s a reason I call my Monday posts on the subject “mistaken Mondays” rather than “here is an idiot on Monday”. That said, I’ve encountered so many examples of misrepresenting data from the large creationist ministries – such as Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research – I’m convinced those people are either incompetent or deliberately deceitful.

        Robert · 12th February 2016 at 6:22 pm

        Adam, I am intrigued by your statement that the evidence suggests cave art didn’t come about through neurological changes. It sounds like there is some substantive research on this subject. Can you recommend some reading material on this subject? Thanks for your time in helping a fellow traveler trying to understand something that seems important in the human evolutionary process.

        Adam Benton · 15th February 2016 at 1:29 pm

        Various artistic things gradually emerge over a long period of time. This is the opposite of the sudden appearance you would expect if there was a mutation.

        This same pattern is seen in many developments previously thought to also be mutations. Some fancy tools were thought to appear suddenly, but evidence of a more gradual origin was later found.

    mgm75 · 23rd July 2013 at 10:19 pm

    However, I believe that each work of art-or each cluster of art- should be viewed as an individual expression.

    Call me a cynic, but any researcher pushing such a banal concept wouldn’t get much funding! 😀

      Adam Benton · 23rd July 2013 at 10:23 pm

      I feel like there’s some funding potential, providing you don’t just promise obvious, almost tautological statements (one of the failings of early processual archaeology)

        ralph gironda · 25th July 2013 at 8:21 pm

        Jargon-filled processional archaeology is a plague upon archaeology. What are these people talking about? They only confuse the issue. Can’t they talk in understandable language? Are they being elitist? They have taken over the profession and left it in shambles. Research should first start with reviewing (and listing) all available theories and than testing them. The banal one might be the strongest. There is so much information we can pull from the evidence.

        I am having trouble replying to you through the reply icon below so I am sending my reply through my reply email. {The reply box is not visuable for me to continue my message.)

        Date: Tue, 23 Jul 2013 21:23:50 +0000 To: [email protected]

        Adam Benton · 25th July 2013 at 9:52 pm

        In theory I support processual archaeology, the idea of trying to test various ideas. In practice it can be a truly horrific beast, but unfortunately it’s not the only one. Have you ever heard of some of the post-processual talk of lifeways? I’ve been studying the subject for 3 years now and still have no idea what on earth a lifeway is, except that people of the past had them and this is a big deal.

        The comment box problem is rather weird, I’ve experienced it on other blogs too, so suspect the problem is at WordPress’s end

        ralph gironda · 27th July 2013 at 7:39 pm

        There is one good book that I recommend for processional archaeology, AN INTRODUCTION TO MODERN ARCHAEOLOGY by Ned Woodall. It shows you step by step how to do processional archaeology. It is jargon-free and simple to understand. If all processional archaeological books were like this processional archaeology might have an impact on avocational archaeologists like my self. Read the first paragraph of Lewis Binford’s ARCHEOLOGY AS ANTHROPOLOGY and tell me what he is saying? Lifeway may be a term for culture. Why they can’t say culture is puzzling. It all started with McKern’s Midwest taxonomic classification. I tried to juxtapose the European names to McKern’s but to no avail. I am still trying. The only thing somebody came up with is Mesolithic for the Paleoindian stage.

        Date: Thu, 25 Jul 2013 20:53:03 +0000 To: [email protected]

        pernell · 31st October 2014 at 3:20 am

        why did people make cave art

      Ralph Gironda · 24th July 2013 at 9:53 pm

      But it may be true. There are two kinds of art that I can think of: cave art and rock art. Why would somebody go deep into a cave draw pictures. It would seem ritualistic. Rock art might have a different meaning.

      mgm75 · 26th July 2013 at 10:13 am

      Personally, I think that post-processualism often goes too far. Reading works by the likes of Ian Hodder always made me want to claw my eyes out. But saying that, reading the bickering between him and Lewis Binford sometimes made for an entertaining read.

        ralph gironda · 27th July 2013 at 8:38 pm

        If you really want to go brain-dead try reading David Clarke’s ANALYTICAL ARCHAEOLOGY. Plog, Schiffler, even some of Renfrew and Clive Gamble need to be banish from anybody’s library. I can’t even go to sleep with these people.

        Date: Fri, 26 Jul 2013 09:13:50 +0000 To: [email protected]

        mgm75 · 28th July 2013 at 11:01 am

        I did read (some of) it, it scarred me so much that I couldn’t bring myself to mention it! 🙂

        pernell · 31st October 2014 at 3:27 am

        do you know why they make cave art?????

      Adam Benton · 29th July 2013 at 1:29 pm

      The worst part is where landscape archaeology and lifeways collide. You wind up with people wandering around sites going “this makes me feel in awe, thus it would’ve impacted ancient lifeways.” It seems to me to be the biggest pile of drivel I ever did hear

        mgm75 · 29th July 2013 at 2:02 pm

        My Master’s is in Landscape Archaeology so I feel your pain brother 🙁

        One Dartmoor expert – can’t remember his name – used to take a window frame up to the moor when he took students on a field trip. This he would take to places like Merevale and Grimspound and… no joke… hold the window frame up so his students could look through it and “experience” the village and its surrounding landscape.

        ralph gironda · 29th July 2013 at 4:22 pm

        It sounds like you went to Leicester University? I get more accomplished by studying on my own. Your freer to develop your own ideas.

        Date: Mon, 29 Jul 2013 13:02:20 +0000 To: [email protected]

        mgm75 · 29th July 2013 at 4:42 pm

        Exeter… Dartmoor ought to have been a clue to that!

        Ralph Gironda · 30th July 2013 at 5:14 pm

        Email from across the Pond from the Colonies: I took at look at Dartmoor and it seems like a great place to do not only archaeology but geology. A far cry from Sherlock Holmes.

        mgm75 · 30th July 2013 at 5:35 pm

        One of my favourite places to go walking, along with Exmoor just a few miles to the North East 🙂

        Ralph Gironda · 30th July 2013 at 9:43 pm

        It looks like Exmoor was studied more than Dartmoor. There is even a book on it’s archaeology.

        mgm75 · 29th July 2013 at 4:52 pm

        Your freer to develop your own ideas at any good university. When you get to Master’s level most lecturers expect you to challenge their ideas.

        ralph gironda · 29th July 2013 at 7:21 pm

        I should research more sites. Dartmoor? Sherlock Holmes? Hound of the Baskervilles? I work out of the library and my 2 hours are up. Contact you tomorrow.

        Date: Mon, 29 Jul 2013 15:52:41 +0000 To: [email protected]

      Adam Benton · 29th July 2013 at 4:04 pm

      Thing is, I’d wager most people with an interest in archaeology have done something similar. Just stood in a field and tried to throw your mind back and imagine the past. But I doubt most people would try and make that a field of research.

        ralph gironda · 29th July 2013 at 4:20 pm

        NEXT TO ATLANTIS AND MU BELIEVERS THESE PEOPLE WOULD FIT RIGHT IN. And who said pseudo-archaeology can’t be scientific. There is a theory that the Beatles ruined Rock & Roll, Shaina Twain ruined Country music (she did), and I believe New Archaeology ruined archaeology.

        Date: Mon, 29 Jul 2013 15:04:28 +0000 To: [email protected]

    Robert Allen · 6th September 2019 at 3:43 am

    ..agree, could be just about anything, graffiti, etc.

nonentiti · 23rd July 2013 at 10:44 pm

Great post, Adam. I like the way you simply explain the different viewpoints without saying one is right. However, wouldn’t the simple answer be that, just like we do today, they had multiple reasons, so we cannot simply attribute all cave art to the same idea. It isn’t just in your field that most academics take this naïve attitude that people in the past were all identical. But every new theory is a reflection of what motivates the theorists, not the cave people. Besides, “art for art sake” today is not about doodles, but about art for its beauty.

    Adam Benton · 23rd July 2013 at 11:23 pm

    That’s a good answer, and ultimately the one I arrived at the end of the post. At the end of the day I suspect most researchers would concede that there are likely multiple explanations for the art; but most don’t really act like it. I guess they want their theory to be important and not relegated to one of many. In much the same way that the discoverer of important fossil hominins will proclaim that their species is the actual ancestor of humanity

Artem Kaznatcheev · 24th July 2013 at 6:08 am

I wonder how this relates to the origins of religion, its interaction with cooperation, and early temples like Gobekli Tepe. In particular, can the expensive investment be explained just as a necessary cost/sacrifice for a project to act as social glue between communities or tribes?

    Adam Benton · 24th July 2013 at 11:02 am

    It’s difficult to say. However, given the environmental variability of Europe at the time anything which helped build cohesion between multiple groups (allowing one to move into another’s territory if their’s froze over) would’ve been a huge boon and would likely justify an extraordinary amount of effort.

    That said, for building cohesion between groups the more mobile items, like the venus figurines, were more important; unless people were regularly visiting each other’s caves

Nuclear Wheelchair · 24th July 2013 at 8:44 pm

Ever heard of hobo signs? I wonder if prehistoric people used a similar system to share knowledge. You could imagine rock faces everywhere in prehistoric times were graffitied with signs like this.


andre salzmann · 1st August 2013 at 7:06 am

I think that if you wanted to obtain better insight into the motivations for the European rock art, it would be rewarding to take careful note of studies done on the San/Bushman art of Southern Africa. On the arrival of whites here early 1600’s, these people still lived as hunter gatherers. They lived like this until virtually yesterday. And were rather well studied and documented. They originally inhabited the whole of Southern Africa, seemingly for hundreds of thousands of years, and left rock art as proof, all over this landscape. Only about a 1000 years ago did the black tribes start moving into the area and pushed them into the western arid areas. Then came the whites who pushed them north.
So it happened that their art and culture was well documented. Far as i know, there are archeologists specializing in this field today. Evan most beautiful story books, by authors who lived amongst them from time to time, the likes of P. J. Schoeman, was written about them. There are quite serious claims (today) that they could sense animals, which were completely out of visual range, up to 12 kms away, when
What does seem apparent is that in their religion and culture, animals and the animal world, were totally integrated. To one group the Praying Mantis.
a local insect, was their God or represented their god on earth. Every time an animal was killed, they prayed for its “soul”. Of course they lived in total symbiosis with nature. They illustrated total respect for it
in their culture/s. Of course they never harmed the environment at all,
seemingly because of their culture. As apposed to the blacks and whites who moved in recently.
For modern humans, to place themselves in the mindset of the Australopithecus artistic, must be almost impossible. Unless we can go via the minds of these peoples who lived in almost similar manner, until yesterday? And are being robed of their last natural vestiges as i am typing here.

    Adam Benton · 2nd August 2013 at 3:40 pm

    Hunter-gatherers are certainly a key source of information on the past and have been studied to investigate it. The Shamanism hypothesis discussed above, for example, was partly inspired by the discovery that some modern hunter-gatherers create cave art whilst in an altered state of conciousness.

    However, much of what you say is just a romanticised view of them. They’re a piece of evidence yes, but won’t resolve the issue single-handedly.

Josie · 7th January 2014 at 9:36 pm

Those hand stencils are not from Chauvet. They’re Cueva de las Manos in Argentina.

Bob · 5th May 2014 at 2:56 pm

i think that now we know why they drew it……to show their pride of their kill during hunting.

HermesHArt · 18th May 2014 at 3:50 am

As an artist Painter i will be always proud to make art, one of the first impulse by humans in the planet Earth…. Painting Art.

Cleo Ellis · 29th August 2014 at 12:17 am

We are born needing to be creative. It is just a matter of allowing it to be free and flourish. All children, starting in infancy, love music, color…and all children draw…until someone tells them they cannot. It is proven, the more creative children are allowed to be, the harder their brain works, developing strong cognitive skills. Anyway…it probably helped them develop speech, fairly difficult to critisize one another’s work with just loud grunts.

Cleo Ellis · 29th August 2014 at 12:20 am

Yes, I know I made a typo with the word criticize, Hey! just how do you get to the edit button. 🙂

Rico Appew · 25th October 2014 at 12:36 pm

Why is prehistoric men artworks discard after hunting .

    Adam Benton · 19th November 2014 at 3:47 am

    We don’t know they actually did always do that.

ephraim nana buadi · 28th October 2014 at 9:54 pm

wanted to know why the prehistoric ma discarded their work of art

Vincent Jenkins · 22nd November 2014 at 6:36 pm

I’ve only just come across this website, and find it refreshingly sensible.

Well… I was finding it so until I read some of the comments on this particular thread.

So I want to say in their defence that Binford, Clarke, Schiffer and Hodder have all tried in various ways to point out to archaeologists (and anyone who will listen) that what comes to your mind when you see something in the ground and that you take to be an old object (=artifact) may not be the same as what came into the mind of its manufacturer, user, or the person who discarded it when it was in their possession.

I strongly support the idea that drawings would have been made in prehistoric times for a variety of motives.

    Adam Benton · 22nd November 2014 at 6:38 pm

    I find this comment refreshingly sensible

Jeff · 14th May 2015 at 7:34 pm

Did they have weed

    Adam Benton · 23rd May 2015 at 11:14 am

    No, mind altering substances appear to have been missing from these locations

Anonymous · 17th September 2015 at 11:19 pm

thank you, i knew was cause they was high

Dwarf Elder · 5th October 2015 at 11:52 am

These cave paintings were the first picture books which holy men used as visual aides for telling stories/history and for passing on hunting knowledge to the clan/tribe. Caves were not fully inhabited year-round and were used more as a storehouse, fortress, temple and winter retreat. Religious temples the world-over still have murals on the walls/ceilings as well as stories to go with the paintings. Ice age winters spent in caves, provided free time for crafting, story telling, tech and art. Summers were wisely spent stocking up for winter which required civic planning and organization. Cave dwellers were creating the fundamentals for civilization while the rest of humanity was living hand to mouth.

    Adam Benton · 5th October 2015 at 1:53 pm

    You are correct in that these caves were only inhabited for part of the year. However, beyond that I think you might be reading a bit too much into it.

      Gianna Paul · 15th November 2015 at 11:43 pm

      This so helpful. I love this thank you! 🙂

Gianna Paul · 16th November 2015 at 12:24 am

Loved this but there are some grammatical errors.

    Adam Benton · 16th November 2015 at 1:23 am

    I’m not surprised. I suck at English.

eve · 31st July 2016 at 10:21 am

Two local guys/ girls sitting by a fire in a cave, 45,000 years ago making crafting beads and carving rock art. ‘Hey that charcoal makes great lines on my stone. I’ve done some pictures of birds outside. Every time it rains though, the pictures wash off’…..’ Then why don’t you paint in here?’ ….’ Good one. I never thought of that. But what if the children start defacing them or our cave gets taken over?’……’well let’s go into the back of the cave. We can work in peace and just have private viewings.’……’ Do you think my kids will be good painters like me?’…..’.I’m not sure…it’s a nature or nurture thing. My dad was great at hunting. I cant throw a spear straight.’….’you think our paintings might be looked at by future generations?’……’I hope so.just remember to sign it with your palm print. You can charge them more beads to see them then.’

Eve · 31st July 2016 at 10:49 am

After the painting has been finished…..’ Whoooo, that’s great. Good idea to use some of the mud on the floor for the horses body.’…… ‘Thanks. Just going back to that nature or nurture thing. I don’t get it.’……’well, I personally think that we are all born painters, like you, and hunters, stone workers, etc. It’s inside us. But some are better than others. That’s the Nature bit. The Nuture bit comes at practicing that skill. As you know, I’m rubbish with a spear, to the frustration of my father.’……’But if all those things are inside us already, why hasn’t anyone else done any painting before. We’ve not found any old cave paintings at all.’…..’yes that has perplexed my thoughts.Maybe the people before didn’t think about it. Maybe the thought didn’t have the time to rise to the surface. Maybe they did, but just painted outside like you did. Oh and one last thing, don’t you think you have gone over the top with your signature. Just one hand would do.’

hoppy · 13th January 2017 at 12:29 pm

really.. This is the answer!!!!!!!!!
make no sense, you need to go to school again, or to college, or maybe better to kindergarten

Anonymous · 26th January 2017 at 4:21 pm

LOL they got high 😀

Anomonys · 26th January 2017 at 4:23 pm

What did the cavemen do to get high? Eat a weed leave?

    Adam Benton · 26th January 2017 at 4:25 pm

    There were no natural sources of high-ness in Europe at the time. Some speculate that repetitive motion or noise could have driven them into a trance like state. Notably, many cave art sites have very particular acoustics.

Anomonys · 26th January 2017 at 4:27 pm

This information doesn’t make sense. Just because they felt like it? There has to be a better reason than that.

clayton · 17th March 2017 at 4:09 am

Adam, are you sure there were no “sources of highness” in Europe back then? I guess if you mean they lived in tundra-like conditions, so that means there are no “sources” in the tundra? I don’t know, is that true? What was the environment like around those caves in France in those days, like actual frozen tundra or just your standard Northern European forest served extra cold? Y’know, as a kid I always wanted to be a Cave-man! But, as a kid who grew up in the 70s, I find that if there were indeed no sources of natural highness, then maybe I would want to re-think that!

    Adam Benton · 17th March 2017 at 8:44 am

    I perhaps phrased that a little badly. There are always sources of highness. Humans can even induce it in themselves without any help through extremely repetitive action, such as ritualistic dancing or singing. The issue is that the study in question got people high using certain chemical compounds. Nothing like those compounds was naturally occurring in Europe at this time.

    So for this approach to still have merit, one must assume that the altered state the brain enters into is the same; regardless of the source of that alteration. Which is a dubious idea to say the least.

      dale · 12th August 2017 at 10:31 pm

      Maybe they liked to masturbate whilst creating art? I certainly do.

Perry Lee · 24th April 2017 at 4:40 am

I have another theory why they drew in their caves: ownership…or a mark that tell others that this cave is taken. An early home safety device.

Imagine cavemen foraging for food have to leave their caves. No one to guard their dwelling.
So they drew images of themselves and animals they own like beasts and mastodons to reinforce their supremacy.

Another caveman must feel hesitant to take over a cave seeing the drawings on the walls, knowing how many men and animals he has to contend with when the original,owners return.

    Adam Benton · 26th April 2017 at 4:03 pm

    A newer idea is that cave art is sort of a “flag” to mark territory. Some support for this comes from the fact it is most common during environmentally tough times; when populations would have been forced into close proximity in the few remaining habitable areas. There, marking territory might have been extra important, hence the rise of cave art.

    I should really do a follow-up to this discussing more explanations.

Anonymous · 13th October 2017 at 1:24 pm

I love smoking some good old weed while drawing crappy pictures of horses

Anonymous · 24th January 2018 at 11:25 pm

I actually thought this article was nicely written, and he gave many reasons that make sense. He had a relatively nice conclusion that was different than most of what I’ve read. It was sensible and humble, as well. His citations were trustworthy and correct. Besides, your comment lacks grammar and constructive criticism. Maybe that means you should be the one going back to school? You can’t learn anything from a good article if you’re the one trying not to understand. User error.

Alex from Android · 31st January 2018 at 9:49 pm

People you are so full of yourselves!! We are not worthy!! How could any of these theories possibly still be in circulation!!.. These cave paintings were multidimensional symbols of our past!! These are sattelite images!!.. These are Constellations!! These are land masses as seen from space!! These are city states and factions!! These are clues on how to traverse the Universe!! These paintings are encryptions so that no enemy of man could of possibly have that they were anything else but DOODLES!! Yes I said sattelite images!! Look at cave paintings from all over the world!! Depict black wholes and other star systems!! You think those faces are alien? No they are black holes and inbetween them is a passage into another star system. Those hands represent all the races of the earth.. Male and female!! For more information watch The History of the Foreververse on youtube!! Those are hidden messages so well you are not worthy to know this information!! Bunch of Simpletons!! We are so focused on materiality we cannot fathom what these people were trying to communicate.

    Adam Benton · 18th February 2018 at 3:07 pm

    There have been a few efforts to align stone age art with celestial phenomena, as I’ve written about before. However, the number of pieces which even come close to this are very rare and even then the relationship is highly circumstantial and suspect.

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