Cave of Forgotten Dreams

May 29, 2011

Modern 3-D technology finally justifies its existence.

This isn’t to say there haven’t been good 3-D movies — Avatar and Tron: Legacy come to mind.  But I heard an interview on NPR with the director of the documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams discussing why he absolutely needed to film the 30,000-year old cave paintings in 3-D.  He was right. 3-D is able to depict the curves of the walls, the relative locations of various images to one another, the way the shape of the walls changes the light and shadows playing over the paintings, in a way that 2-D never could.  Access to Chauvet Cave is highly restricted — Herzog only had a few hours with a limited crew to film — and reportedly no one will ever be allowed to bring movie equipment inside again.  So it’s wonderful to have this record of something most of us will never get to see.  (Before the movie we discussed what you’d have to do to be able to get into these caves:  get an advanced degree in paleolithic archeology, become an expert in this particular region and culture, and apply for permission to become part of the research team. . .  For most of us, we’d be better off just going to see this movie.)

This also did what a good documentary is supposed to do:  It made me ask a lot of questions and want to learn more.  This is because these paintings are really good.  It isn’t that they’re some of the oldest examples of artwork ever discovered, they’re amazing — just look at these horses.  They’re not just recognizable as fully-realized horses — they look like Przewalki’s horses, an ancient breed of wild horse whose ancestors would have been common 30,000 years ago.  I could gush about this for a really long time, but other people have done that already.  What I was thinking about:  These artists practiced.  They probably drew with charcoal on pieces of slate or wood, practicing for when they could go into the cave and do their best work.

I also kept thinking:  why did these people only paint animals?  There are handprints (signatures?) and a couple of body parts/half-people.  They obviously had the skill to paint people.  But why didn’t they?  What was their relationship to animals that they recreated them so carefully?  That they spent so much time on this?

This is all giving me ideas.  Must ponder further.

5 Responses to “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”

  1. Jared Says:

    The general consensus for now seems to be that people made animal paintings in caves to figuratively assert dominion over the animals they hunted, or to maintain the fertility of the herds of said animals. :/

  2. carriev Says:

    Well, that may be the real reason, but is it the reason in the Kitty universe?

  3. vulpes Says:

    Does there have to be a reason that they painted them? other then the Thing itself?

  4. Mom Says:

    I think the question is why animals and not people. If it was for success in the hunt, why not pictures of their enemies?

  5. LupLun Says:

    Maybe that was considered foul play. Like, for the same reason modern soldiers are prohibited to torture and mutilate enemy soldiers. Maybe using black magic was considered a war crime.

    Alternatively: maybe the magic wasn’t meant to control, but to supplicate. Maybe the caves were like a bulletin board where they posted requests to their deities. If they left pictures of food animals, that would mean they wanted to be able to eat. If they left pictures of body parts, then maybe they wanted such and such to recover from sickness, or to be more powerful, etc.

    Another idea: IIRC, before there were paintings, humans created sculptures, and many of those early compositions DO depict people. (Venus of Willendorf, etc.) So maybe there was a sacred place for one kind of magic, and another kind was so precious that it had to be carried with you.

    Related idea: security issues. I recall that with a lot of ancient magics revolving around effigies and representations, the magic is tied to the representation. If an enemy got a hold of the effigy, he could then break the spell or corrupt it into something that could really ruin your day. Maybe they didn’t put complete humans on these caves because it was too dangerous to have an effigy of yourself just sitting there.


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