What do we learn from prehistoric cave paintings?

Cave paintings often depicted wildlife that prehistoric humans would have encountered on a regular basis.

Many hundreds of caves, 350 in Spain and France alone, have prehistoric artwork dating to between about 1,200 and 34,000 years old. The purpose of these cave paintings is not precisely known. Many ascribe religious or spiritual significance to them, but this is just one theory among many. Other interpretations argue that cave paintings were ways of passing information on to other people, or just art for its own sake. Many cave paintings are located deep within the caves, however, making it unlikely that these paintings were for explicit display purposes. Arguments from modern Aboriginal people in Australia suggest that Indigenous painting is carried out for a variety of reasons: primarily for magic against humans or animals or record keeping.

Cave paintings typically depicted on bison.

Cave paintings tend to feature scenes of large wild animals such as aurochs (the extinct ancestors of domesticated cows), bison, horses and deer. Numerous artistic traces of human hands have been discovered, as well as artistic line drawings traced with fingers, called “finger curls”. These enigmatic finger taps are usually performed on a surface of moon milk, a white, cheese-like precipitate of limestone composed of carbonate minerals in different crystal stages. Moonmilk is only found in caves.

Lascaux is the name of a region of France most famous for its cave paintings.

Mostly, cave paintings tell us what we already know – that there were modern humans in Africa, Europe and Australia tens of thousands of years ago and these people were sophisticated enough to practice some form of art. This finding is borne out by the discovery of many relics that are not cave paintings, such as flint tools, figurines and carved animal bones. Cave paintings confirm the existence of animals now fully extinct – such as the aurochs, or animals extinct in a certain area, such as the European bison (which has been extinct in most of Western Europe since 2,000 years ago). The characteristic Lascaux style of cave painting, which is the most famous, died out about 10,000 years ago when people in present-day France began to adopt an agricultural lifestyle and settle in villages.

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Cave paintings may have been created simply for the sake of art.

Depictions of reindeer in Spanish caves supported the hypothesis, supported by fossil evidence, that reindeer lived in the area around the time of the last great glaciation, which reached its maximum extent 18,000 years ago. At that time, most of the British Isles and northern Europe were covered by continental glaciers, making them uninhabitable. Only southern Europe – France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, etc. – were habitable in the region. In fact, the uninhabitability of much of Europe and Asia likely caused humans to expand eastward from Africa, where they colonized Southeast Asia and Australia. Some of the earliest evidence of human colonization outside Africa was found in Australia around 50,000 years ago. It is not known why cave paintings older than 32 years,

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