c. 14,000 YEAR OLD BULL AND COW BISON
Bradshaw Foundation visit to view the c. 14,000 year old Bull and Cow Bison
found in the Le Tuc d'Audoubert cave, Ariege, France.
by John Robinson
The 15000 years that separated me from the child disappeared as though the time between us had been wiped away. These people were our ancestors, every bit as clever as we like to think we are, but able to survive in an environment that would kill most of us all off today. Without doubt their artistic skill was absolutely brilliant, and I believe, was more in touch with the purpose that Art should play in society than it does today.
We followed on, turning this way and that, always sticking to the pathway. A narrow squeeze, a larger tunnel, and skirting around sections of the cave floor that had collapsed into the lower levels made by the river. No-where was there any art, the walls of the tunnel were pristine.
Altar of Bull & Cow Bison
Time and space were so completely mixed together by now that I had no idea of either as separate identities. The Count turned to me and pointed off to the left down into a large hollow space. “Sit and Rest”, he said in French. I settled down and waited. “Look behind you”. I turned and there were the Bison, three feet away from my eyes. “Oh my God”, I exclaimed. What a moment. What an impact. I could not believe my eyes. The Bison are incredibly beautiful, incredibly powerful, and immensely full of Religious Purpose. The Cow is ready and the Bull is scenting the air. The act of conception is about to be fulfilled, and a new Life is about to be created.
The two Bison lean against a central rock that supports them, adding a scale to the scene. Because of the darkness of the cavern that surrounds the sculptures, one feels as though you are looking down from afar onto a moment of real life.
A white ribbon encircles the Bison. No one is allowed to stand, in case they accidentally fall on the Art that has been there for 15000 years. Slowly I crawled around the circle so I could see all the angles of perspective, shining my light this way and that to get the shadow effects. The great humps of the Bison were exactly like the Bison Damon and I had seen the week before in Montana. There, wild Bison still roam the valleys, as they must have done here 15000 years ago, providing meat to the Magdalenian people then, just as they had the Hunter Gatherer Indians of America.
The sculptures are a unique wonder of the Art world. Two foot long, eighteen inches high, three to four inches thick, modelled in clay, the surface given a wet finish to make them smooth. The finger strokes of the artist can be seen running down the length of the animals. The mane and beard are etched with a tool, but the marking along the jawbones are done by the artist’s fingernail. The horns are rougher and not water treated. The clay has cracks running across the bodies, indicating that the sculptures have dried out, although the clay we were sitting on is still quite pliable.
I scraped a small ball of clay from the floor and kneaded it in my fingers and thought about the Supreme Artists who had conceived this marvellous composition.
At last we had to drag ourselves from the scene. We turned to the sunken cave floor behind us. We slid down to it and stood beside a flat clay floor. A few footprints of adults can be seen in the clay, but mainly the footprints are of young children. Towards the rear wall of the cave, cut out of the floor, is a hole in the four inch thick clay where a slab has been removed, the shape and size of one of the Bison. Surely this was where the clay used to model the Bison had come from. Also lying on the ground are some sausages of clay, rolled between the hands, just as I have done a hundred times as I prepared some clay while studying my sculpture, thinking about the next move. It is a subconscious action shared by all sculptors working with clay. I felt a wonderful bond existed between myself and the Magdalenian artist who had done this exquisite work so many years ago. How fortunate we both were to be sculptors.
Once felt, the Spirit of the Place that exists in this sacred Sanctuary of Life can never be forgotten. Here Life was Created. For me the “purpose of the place” was to obtain the Blessing of the Goddess of Fertility on the new Life that was about to be conceived in front of the Bison who were depicted about to perform the same act.
On the way from the Cave we passed back through the tight wormhole. I followed the Count this time. He lay on his back, entered the hole feet first and disappeared. I followed suit. The feeling of passing from the Womb of the Cave down the Birth Canal, out into the World, flooded through me with incredible power. I could not believe that this was happening to me. Our time was up, and the rush of the modern world of cars and aeroplanes waited for us outside this ancient haven of peace.
Before long we arrived back at the boat. Jean and I were first to leave. We paddled gently down stream towards the light at the entrance of the cave. I experienced another rebirth as I passed out into the sunlight of a new day, a different person, one who had knelt in front of the Ancient Gods of the Past. A changed person, because to experience the wonders of Tuc d’Audoubert must touch the Inner Being of all who have been there. “I am aware therefore I am”. What would have been going through the mind of the girl as she waded through the five foot deep waters of the stream, heading for the light at the entrance of the tunnel?
Was she the girl that had carried the three year old child into the cave, resting it on the shelf, where it had left its foot prints in the clay 15000 years ago? Was she now carrying a new life from her encounter at the Bison Altar?
Would she have been aware of a sense of Divine cleansing as she waded through the water on her way into the cave, and then again, a sense of a Blessing as she was herself reborn into the sunshine? I think she would because I believe the Magdalenians thought exactly as we do today.
It took seconds to model a tiny bison from the minute ball of clay that I had scraped from the trampled floor in front of the Bison. I wondered if 15000 years ago the High Priest would have done the same thing, then given a Talisman to each Worshipper as they left the Sanctuary to protect the owner from evil influences. I know that if I had been the Priest I certainly would have!
Both Damon de Laszlo and myself will forever be in the debt of Count Robert Bégouën for sharing such a privilege with me, and my friend Jean Clottes and for arranging such a special trip.
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