RETURN TO THE CHAUVET CAVE BY JOHN ROBINSON
At the other ends of the earth, on the Orkney Islands off the northern coast of Scotland, the same practice was being used at the Eagle Tomb
. The tomb is situated on the top of a high cliff overlooking the sea and consists of a small ossuary chamber with a platform beside it. The archaeologists say that bodies were exposed on the platform so the Sea Eagles
could strip them of flesh before the long bones and skulls were collected and stored in the chamber. Found with the human bones were the beaks and claws of Sea Eagles.
The same thing happened on the island of Malta, home of the oldest buildings in Europe. The Temples of Malta
, which pre-date the Pyramids
, are mainly above ground and built on a basic plan that resembles the outline of a Fertility Goddess. Two underground Temples have been discovered. They are mined out of the native limestone and follow the same design. Discovered within these underground temples were thousands of long bones and skulls, the men in one section and the women in another.
When the West Kennet burial chamber near Stonehenge
was opened again long bones and skulls were found. The same thing occurred in Ireland. I wonder if this was a universal practice that has been in existence for tens of thousands of years. It seems very unlikely to me that the meme of revering long bones and skulls started in Australia and moved to Europe?
In the Himalayas only a few years ago a friend of mine witnessed the practice of a ritual dissection of a corpse, before exposure so the vultures could devour it.
What was the purpose of the Dabous Giraffe carvings in Niger
? Obviously the site was sacred and must have been visited by many people over a great number of years. Jean Clottes and his team recorded 828 smaller carvings surrounding the Giraffe carvings. Near the site are several tumuli and I wonder what is hidden within them? Could it be human skulls and long bones? When I slept beside the Giraffe carvings in 1999 I had the worst nightmares I have ever experienced. People were being killed left right and centre and blood was flowed everywhere. If my dreams were any indication of the Spirit of the Place, the purpose of the Dabous Rocks was very much attached to death. Could it have been used for the exposure of the dead?
Arakua in the Sahara
In the dead volcanic crater of Arakua, east of the Air Mountains and on the edge of the Sahara Desert, is a vast tumulus. It covers the area of two tennis courts and is over six feet high. What is it for? Could it be hiding the skulls and long bones of people that died when the Tenere was the home of thousands of Hunter Gathers? The only purpose I can think of is that the tumuli was slowly built up over a great many years as the skulls and bones of the dead were buried around it. Thousands of man-hours must have gone into building this giant stone heap.
The Egyptians took the process the next step by believing that the mummified body would be rejuvenated in the After Life. This practice was dropped as soon as the meme caught on that we didn’t need bodies in the Next Life. One of the reasons we respect the memory of the dead could possibly be that the living don’t want their spirits to come back and haunt them.
A Chauvet Ossuary?
So what did the Bear Clan do with their dead? Did they also collect the skulls and long bones? I can’t help but think that such a sophisticated people must have done something similar to their dead as the Unambal. Because the Clan would have passed Chauvet only twice a year, once in the early Spring and again in the late Autumn, as they hunted the migrating herds that passed along the Ardeche Canyon, I doubt if an ossuary will be found near the Arch. Another possibility is that the Chauvet people could have dealt with the problem of bodies in the same way as the Eskimos of northern Canada did. In the past the dead and dying were taken out and left for the Polar Bears to deal with. Did the Bear Clan use the Lions in the same way? It would have been a very tidy way of solving the problem, and the one thing these people were was very practical. Such a solution was not available to the Unambal or the Orkney people.
I believe that Religion evolved in three separate but linked Steps. The first step is taken when a group bonds together and develops a Set of Rules for their mutual protection. Mankind’s Rules evolved into a Code of Conduct. The next step was the enforcement of the Code of Conduct on the group by a mutually respected Elder. He was able to do this by imposing a pattern of ritual behaviour on the group through Taboos backed up by ceremonies of song and dance. Such a man was probably a respected Healer and became known as the Medicine Man or Shaman. His power came from claiming that he could communicate with a supernatural force that he could use to punish an offender or to ensure a successful kill. The third step is reached when the whole group believes they can communicate with the Supernatural Force who they can appeal to for help in their present life and join in the After Life.
Walking on the Moon
For me the discovery of the Art in the Chauvet Cave is as important as Mankind walking on the surface of the Moon. I believe that Art is the pinnacle of Human Civilisation. Sperone Speroni, a Renaissance writer living in Florence in the 16th century, defined the key to Civilisation as “the Creation of Wealth and the Patronage of the Arts”. Art is the culmination of Mankind’s achievements and its existence in the Chauvet Cave is breathtaking.
Chauvet Clan acted as Patrons
I wouldn’t mind betting that the hunters of the Bear Clan acted as patrons to their artists. I can just hear them saying, “You stay in the cave and paint and I will go get some meat for you to eat”. If they thought that the Animal Spirits protected the herds and could help them make a kill, they would surely make certain that their artists were properly looked after.
Dinner in the local restaurant
When Jean joined my wife and myself for dinner in the local restaurant of Vallon Pont d’Arc, we took the opportunity of giving him a “thank you” present for asking me to join his team. When visiting my studio he had admired a small bronze I had done many years before based on an Alexander Pushkin poem about a young girl releasing a swallow outside the church door after the Easter service. When I look at the sculpture it makes me think of the Chauvet Spirit World.