15 thoughts on “Meanwhile, back in the cave…

  1. it was hard to be a great scientist when your parents would not send you to school and all family resources were spent on your brothers, still some did manage to get into college, and those that did exelled. hare to be a scientist, when the few women who did get to secondary edjucation were often not allowed in science lectures.
    Hey anonymous, come on out, share who you are, us wimmen don’t bite, much ?

  2. Sorry if I’m being dumb but what does this image mean? My only interpretation is it’s a joke reversal on how men might ask “how come all the best painters are men?”, when they’ve not even really looked at womens painting. In this case it’s the women who are standing around only looking at their own groups output.

  3. This may not be representative, but in most discussions of cave painting I’ve seen there’s an unargued-for assumption that the painters are male. I thought it was playing on that.

  4. I thought it was playing on the old “Why have there been no great women artists” saw, which similarly tends to proceed from a self-absorbed and narrowly construed conception of what art is, what time period one is talking about, and what one considers good (one’s own work!).

  5. It’s adorable! They’re playing with the Lascaux cave art hypotheses. The anthro profs who taght me had enough humility to admit that nobody knows who the heck painted that stuff, or why. I’ll stick my neck out and side with the paleoanthropologists who hypothesize that the art was part of some ritual to pray to the spirits of the animals for a good hunt and/or fertility. I take this view because the paintings are so far in the caves, and the images overlap and run together in random order, as if they were painted by artists in some sort of altered state of consciousness. (Yes, I’d be more than willing to change that view if more compelling evidence were discovered.) Images designed to record or instruct tend to be placed closer to daylight, where a long and not-so-safe trek by torchlight won’t be required to view them. They tend to have something of a pattern as well, an internal coherence, if you will.

    There are also hypotheses about the cave art being wallpaper painted by bored cavedwellers during the coldest part of the year. So, to decipher the message in the cartoon, I believe the emphasis would be on that explanation. In a food foraging society, who would be more likely to be left behind to get bored, navel gaze, and paint graffiti? Whatever self-styled ‘experts’ are trying to claim that the paintings were more likely to be painted by one gender or another are making an absurd and rather arrogant statement.

    I love how this cartoon chuckles at those arrogant assumptions.

  6. Maybe the bias that assumes the Lascaux artists were male is based on gender differences in size&strength. An under-exercised person of either gender might have difficulty navigating the rock surfaces to paint those images. I’d have to check the research into what the fossil record says about people of that time to say for sure, but I don’t believe that a population of food foragers who obviously relied on following herds of ungulates to stay alive would produce females who would have been too under-exercised for a little rock climbing.

    My favourite: urban anthropology.

    This video, and others demonstrate that contemporary cave artists/explorers/’revolutionary’ counter-culture types

    (? some would debate that this stuff is actually art. I don’t mind much of it, especially the castle. Many, including myself would debate how ‘revolutionary’ it is to crawl around in a boneyard for the sake of getting drunk and vomiting on ancient generations of France’s dead.)

    are more often male than female. The trek does look like a bit of a workout. I’d love to try it anyway, just to check out the history.

  7. A comment from J, mistakenly left at the wrong post: Dean Snow, archaeologist at Penn State University, analyzed the hand stencils in many caves and feels that at least some of them were made of female hands. This, of course, does not prove that the paintings themselves were done by females. And I am uncertain about his findings to begin with – don’t know enough about his data. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1197680/After-25-000-years-scientists-discover-artwork-created-cave-men-AND-cave-women.html

  8. There is actually good evidence that a significant proportion of paleolithic cave art was produced by women and girls. Sharpe and van Gelder have focused on finger ‘flutings’ in French cave art in the Dordogne (2009, Oxford Journal of Archaeology). Finger flutings are tracings of fingers on a soft surface. Analyzing these traces, one can get an idea of age and gender of the makers, using forensic methods (e.g., differing ratios between digit lengths in men and women). Sharpe and van Gelder found that 5 out of 7 flutings in Rouffignac, a cave with both flutings and cave paintings in close proximity, were created by women or (adolescent) girls. Another paper indicates that the majority of hand stencils in 4 French paleolithic caves were produced by women (2006, Antiquity). Given that hand stencils co-occur with more complex imagery, this again indicates (although it doesn’t prove conclusively) that palaeolithic painting was something women did.

  9. Oops, I just saw that Jender already referenced the Snow article. Anyway, it just goes to show there are several lines of evidence in favor of this interpretation.

  10. Dr. Snow’s methodology appears sound to me. When I said “nobody knows”, I meant that no hypothesis about culture (including gender divisions) among deceased populations can be stated with a high degree of certainty. A reasonable degree of certainty, maybe. The best we can do is to extrapolate from physical remains, and cautiously examine living cultures, and cultures that went extinct with some written records intact for possible clues as to how past societies *may have* behaved.

    My prof was one of the leading experts in Experimental Archaeology in North America when I studied with him. One of his classes included a demonstration with him pounding flint to show how tools from the Oldowan and Acheulean tool industries were made. (Fascinating!) He was also an extreme skeptic. He cautioned us to always compare several sources against each other before reaching a tentative conclusion, and to understand how much new evidence is being unearthed every year. Even solid theories of ancient humans’ and our protohuman ancestors’ physical abilities are constantly being revised. Just 8 years ago, there was a good deal of debate about Neanderthals’ capacity for speech and symbolic thinking. The Neanderthal Genome Project has now determined conclusively that Neanderthals possessed a gene that coded for a particular bone in the throat that the great apes, and other extinct hominoid species don’t have. Human populations have this bone. Paleoanthropologists can now say for certain that Neanderthals could speak, and that they were *probably* capable of more foresight, planning, and abstract thought than was ever before attributed to them.

    But, I digress. My point is that I’m still skeptical, but hopeful that more and more evidence will turn up. I would lean toward hypothesizing that a very large and rather diverse group comprised of males and females painted the Lascaux caves over a period of years, and possibly more than one generation. (I loved the Disney movie Brother Bear, btw. But it’s NOT proof :-))

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