The Purpose of the Niaux Cave Paintings
Dr. Jean Clottes stated that three years ago, he and his wife Renee, now sadly departed, decided to bequeath his life's work in prehistory - over 4,000 books, numerous journals, archives and reprints, and some 60,000 slides - to the Park of Prehistory. The collection of works are now being housed in a purpose-built documentation centre, named after the eminent prehistorian. To celebrate this, a new and extensive exhibition entitled 'The Art of Origins, Origins of Art' was planned to coincide with the Center's opening. Jean Clottes hopes that this will not only attract researchers, but that it will also encourage the donation of books, archives and even objects from both academics and members of the public.
The new International Center of Rock Art includes exhibition space of 500 sq.m., a 120-seat auditorium and a library. With this new development, the Park of Prehistory at Tarascon-sur-Ariege achieves 'museum' status.
The themes depicted suggest that the paintings were not the expression of material, utilitarian or purely artistic preoccupations. Instead, the symbols and the animals represented expressions of a spiritual conception of existence. In a word - religion.
The fact that these paintings and engravings were made deep inside caves where nobody lived suggests they were endowed with spiritual significance. Man creates gods in his own image. At this time, Palaeolithic humankind was surrounded by animals, and therefore part of this faunal matrix, not above it.
Shamanism has multiple components, but there are several fundamental features. A shamanic society believes in a cosmos in which several worlds exist. Shamans, in particular, have direct access to these other worlds - to cure, to maintain, to restore and to ensure. They may also receive spirit-helpers in animal form. Fluidity characterizes shamanism - fluidity between the different worlds, between the genders, between humans and animals. Clearly, this concept is a working and logical hypothesis. Not all palaeolithic rock art can be ascribed to shamanic practices, but this concept does help us take a step toward understanding our ancestors' attitude to the supernatural and their ways of approaching their own gods.
→ The Niaux Cave Film | Download from the iShop | Buy on DVD
→ France Rock Art Archive
→ Bradshaw Foundation
→ Palaeolithic Cave Art and Depth Psychology by Dr. Ilse Vickers