Inora Newsletter #46
REGARDING METHODOLOGY IN INTERPRETING MOVEMENT
IN PALAEOLITHIC REPRESENTATIONS
The application of audiovisual methods to the phased repetition of the contours of certain Palaeolithic representations has enabled their consideration in a new light (Azéma 2005: 14 et seq). This methodological procedure is particularly interesting because its objective is to explain the phased repetition of certain anatomical elements as expressing movement. However, this method necessitates a detailed preliminary analysis of the shape, number, position and function of such lines which may finally orient the hypothesis in other possible directions. In addition, experiment can be made on the figures to confirm or deny the data already collected.
It is a fact that Palaeolithic people carried out numerous superimpositions of figures without systematically looking for empty spaces to draw new ones. We can also imagine that they sometimes needed to correct positions or orientations of certain parts or lines in their representations (Apellániz 1989). Finally, all phased representations of an anatomical element should not necessarily be interpreted as being part of the figure under consideration.
Marc Azéma, using audiovisual techniques, has recently reconstituted movement in the representations of horses (Lascaux, Limeuil, Foz Côa), bison (Les-Trois-Frères) and ibex (Le Colombier). In the following analysis I start from the supposition that all the lines that appear in the interior, with or near the chosen figure were made by the same artist or by another to improve or complete the subject. This analysis, however, should also precede any other.
Preliminary analysis of parts and lines juxtaposed
The constraints of a careful and detailed study in a limited space decided me to analyse only one of the figures studied and to offer this analysis as a model applicable to all others, perhaps apart from the La Vache lions as the multiple phased repetitions of their limbs and their lines are more frequent and in this latter case more likely to demonstrate the supposed movement.
The elements and the contours of the following figure present numerous problems of interpretation because of its shape and of its finished state. The following can be mentioned:
1. Its zoological identification is uncertain. Even though it has traditionally been seen as a horse, certain details suggest a more probable cervid, for example, the undeniable brevity of the tail. At its presumed site there are an oval (Fig.1: 1) and two curved lines (Fig.1: 2-3). The oval can be interpreted as correcting an outline, as there are identical corrections for the croup (Fig.1: 37) and the base of the mane (Fig.1: 34) as well as near the legs (Fig.1: 21-23), as these lines do not represent precise anatomical body parts, nor do they correspond to the model of the withers which are in fact clearly marked (Fig.1: 32-33).
2. Its formal shape is irregular and imperfect. Thus, the figure is broken down by interruptions in its contours. Apart from the separation between the croup and the rear, there is the interruption of the latter in the foreground and in its farthest outline; this is even more marked for the breast line and for the beginning of the belly where the right leg joins it as far as the ribs, as if it were an added or foreign element. The hind-quarters also shows serious irregularities, as it is made up of three lines for the buttocks and the thigh when they only correspond to two legs. To this is added the difficulty of identifying the tail, as we have no proof that it was shown by one line or by the two. If it was by the single external line (Fig.1: 2), the other (Fig.1: 3) could rejoin the buttock for the exterior line of the hind-quarters (Fig.1: 6), the central line (Fig.1: 5) then being without a corresponding tail.
3. Isolated lines and divisions: near the base of the mane we can see lines unrelated to any anatomical elements (Fig.1: 3536), nor to the relief as for the flat part of the withers (Fig.1: 3233). They can be interpreted as elements that have been abandoned. Such lines can also be seen between the two first posterior contours (Fig.1: 79). They are particularly abundant in the middle of and behind the two legs. As to the front, they are visible between the two extremities of what are clearly pasterns (Fig.1: 28) and particularly for the rear where they start at the height of the distal half of the member and converge or open out without taking an identifiable form (Fig.1: 2124). With the rear member, near what are obviously rear legs, can be seen disconnected lines which seem to be part of their contours (Fig.1: 14, 18). The clearest is that in front of the rear members, almost at the height of the groin (Fig.1: 19). It has the same curve as the rear contour of the legs. It is more reasonable, however, to interpret it as a first attempt, then given up, to put in place the rear member. We have no proof that the line that can be seen between the two legs projected towards the rear and the vertical one in the middle (Fig.1: 12) does represent the right leg of a second pair, as it does not suggest the relief of the fetlock. It is possible that it originally had this objective and was thus drawn before being abandoned. There is even less certainty for the short line between the third and fourth legs (Fig.1: 14). In addition we can notice that the dorsal contour is doubled at certain points to form ovals which are sometimes open (Fig.1: 34) or closed (Fig.1: 31, 37) and do not represent specific anatomical details, which suggests they can be interpreted as corrections of the dorsal line. This phenomenon can be seen with the Colombier ibex (Azéma 2006: 16, Tabl. 1).
To sum up, we are dealing with a figure that seems to have been badly drawn and finished, reinforcing the suspicion that a number of its elements, particularly the legs and pasterns, were reworked in order to correct them. The La Marche horse is a similar case (ibidem).
Analysis of the presumed movement
For the repetition of the legs and pasterns to suggest movement they should be in equal number and in the same position as the two pairs. However, for the foreleg, only two pasterns can be seen: a complete first one which tapers to a point (Fig.1: 29); the other, incomplete, to its right, represents roughly half the member (Fig.1: 30). It is joined by a pointed extremity which could belong to it (Fig.1: 27). The closed and pointed shapes (Fig.1: 25-26) could be interpreted as sketches of other pasterns, but the fact that they are brief and disparate and that their distal extremities do not converge shows that the original intention of the artist to place the legs vertically was abandoned and corrected. In sum, the foreleg has only two pasterns.
The situation is roughly similar for the rear end which includes two legs kicking out behind (Fig.1: 10-11), another vertical one which comes down from the hock (Fig.1: 13) and a fourth in front without a parallel leg. The line between the first two and the second (Fig.1: 12) seems not to represent another leg as it does not have the same shape. It could be, as with the foreleg, a first idea to complete a pair, corrected and abandoned. Even if we consider it to be a leg, the grouping is made up of two complete and one incomplete pair. In this supposed case the animal would have a number of pasterns not corresponding to the legs, as with the Colombier ibex (op. cit.) and all in different positions. Furthermore, the position is particularly important as the horse is ambling.
If the three contours of the buttock and leg are interpreted as representing movement, this would then have been not from rear to front or the reverse, but from left to right, which it is difficult to qualify as a natural movement. Also, if the juxtaposed repetition of a body contour would represent the movement of that part, how then could we explain the movement of the head and throat forwards without the ears moving at the same time?
Testing and evaluation
Experimenting brings a decisive element of proof to the hypothesis that the Limeuil repetitions of lines would correspond to contour corrections and not to the supposed expression of movement. As part of an ongoing experiment, a group of 130 people were asked to copy a Palaeolithic representation of a horse in an absolutely static position. In the resulting drawings after the experiment, one could notice the displaced repetitions of lines, the ovals, the loose lines and the changes in direction of the line, just as is the case with the Limeuil figure. As the exercise was to exactly copy the static figure which did not in any way represent movement, we cannot say that the lines were made with the objective of changing or correcting the contour of the head, neck and withers, the tail, belly and rear leg. I present two cases. On Fig.2 can be seen the corrections of the rear contour and on Fig.3 those of the head, the withers and the front leg.
AZÉMA M., 2005. La Décomposition du mouvement dans l’art paléolithique. Inora, 43, p. 14-20.
APELLÁNIZ J.-M., 1989. Analyse de la rectification comme mécanisme de la méthode de détermination d’auteur. Les gravures de la plaquette du Magdalénien VI d’Ekain (Deva, Guipúzcoa, Pays Basque , Espagne). L’Anthropologie, 93 (2), p. 463-474.