RETURN TO THE CHAUVET CAVE BY JOHN ROBINSON
Ambrose, and many other scientists such as Christopher Stringer, believe that that this six year long winter could possibly have reduced the world’s population of Homo Sapiens to 10,000 adults.
Out of Africa
Ambrose states that everyone outside of Africa today derives from populations that experienced the bottleneck in Africa caused by the eruption of Toba’s super volcano. All the small founder populations have genetic affinities with eastern Africans.
The genetics evidence from mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA indicates that there were three bottlenecks in the Evolution of Homo Sapiens. The first migration across the dry southern end of what is now the Red Sea, happened around 70,000 years ago, in other words, after the Toba Instant Ice Age.
Where in Africa?
African genetic lineages coalesce to a common ancestor around 130,000 years ago. It is likely that there were several isolated populations: Congo, coastal East and West, South African Coast, Ethiopia, Nile Valley and possibly NW Africa.
Chauvet a sanctuary
I started to wonder about the subject matter of the art rather than the actual drawings. The altar, sorcerer, female pubic triangles, and drawings all point towards the cave being a sanctuary and a place of worship for the Bear Clan. This was obviously a place of ceremony that concentrated on the breeding of children and the hunting of meat.
Predators and the Prey
The drawings can be split into two sorts of animals, Predators and Prey. The Bear, Lion, Cheetah and Man were all meat eaters, where as the Horses, Auroch, Bison, Rhinoceros and Reindeer ate grass. I wondered if this didn’t show that already man was having an effect on the balance of nature, which had existed for millions of years?
A diet of pure protein
The herds of seasonal migrating herbivores supplied the Bear Clan with protein. Was the Bear Clan trying to kill, or at least scare off, their competitors who were attacking their meat supply? The climate was getting colder, and the colder the environment that man lives in the more protein he needs to eat for warmth. Laplanders and Eskimos survive on a diet of pure protein. The Clan would have harvested berries, nuts and mushrooms but there were no tropical tubas to gather, so meat must have been on the menu most meals.
Could this be the meaning behind the drawings? Was the cave a place of magic where the Clan sort help from the Spirit World in their battle against the predators that hunted the animals that were their source of meat? Could the art show that Man had begun a kind of animal management 35,000 years ago? If Chauvet Man’s mind is identical to ours, then it would seem to me that such an action would have been the product of a perfectly normal way of thinking and exactly how we would react today.
From Stephen Budiansky’s wonderful book The Nature of Horses, I have learnt some fascinating facts about these curious and playful creatures that enchant us. Of the 4000 species of Mammals that have occupied the earth during the last 10,000 years, the Horse is one of the few that have achieved widespread success as a domesticated animal. The evidence indicates that they have evolved around human settlements mainly because their behaviour is compatible with that of ours.
Ukraine and Central Asia
Horses rapidly disappeared in Europe as the climate changed at the end of the last Ice Age when forests replaced grasslands. Herds fled east leaving France and Spain for the grasslands of Ukraine & Central Asia.
Domesticated for labour & meat
Budiansky states that it really does look as though what saved the Horse from extinction was domestication on the grasslands of Ukraine. Discoveries there indicate that the Horse was bred for labour and meat about 6000 years ago. Remains of camp rubbish indicate that 50% of the meat being eaten was Horse, as the supplies of Auroch, Boar and Deer became scarcer.
Out of all the Horse teeth that have been recovered from the last 25,000 years, the first ones to show bit wear were found in the Ukraine. These teeth have been dated as being 6000 year old and belonged to a 14.2 hand stallion.
Being driven away?
Horses must have realised they had the speed to escape us, so perhaps they also knew that it was safe to actually seek our company because they saw that predators avoided us. Maybe the reason that the Lions in Chauvet are generally facing out from the Sorcerer is because they are being driven away. It seems to me that in carefully selected panels the Sorcerer is surrounded by individual drawings of Bison and a Horse.
A fly on the wall
Outside the cave I ate a French picnic of bread and cheese, washed down with red wine, in the shade of the scrub oaks, looking out over the valley, and wondered if members of the Bear Clan had also sat here while having their lunch. Oh how I wished I could have been a fly on the walls of Chauvet 35,000 years ago!
On my last visit I had met and been interviewed by a film crew who were recording our reactions as we came out of the cave doorway. They had been doing this for two years but had not yet been allowed into the cave. I could not imagine anything more frustrating. On the second day of my visit they were to be allowed in for the first time and would see with their own eyes all the wonders we had been raving about. I watched the film producer Pierre Oscar Levy and his crew suit up and crawl off down the rabbit hole. I could imagine how excited they were.
Hunters’ carrying their burning flares
While Jean showed them around the cave I was able to drift away from the group and be by myself. Looking back I could see the men faintly illuminated by their helmet lights amongst the beautiful stalagmite and stalactites. They looked like the Bear Clan hunters carrying their burning flares.
We left the cave Pierre interviewed me again. When we had finished I asked him for his own reactions. What had he felt as he stood in front of the Horse Panel? He answered, “I cried”. I completely understood his reaction. To see the Chauvet Paintings with ones own eyes must be the greatest privilege ever to be bestowed.
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