So it seems there’s new evidence that links the appearance of artwork—at least in its Paleolithic forms—with religious belief, rather than just the need to adorn the cave should company drop by and start making smart remarks.

“This theory does not originate with the prehistorians, in other words, those who started to develop the idea that the art of primitive peoples was linked with beliefs of a symbolic-religious nature were the anthropologists,” Eduardo Palacio-Pérez, author of the study and researcher at UC, said . . . .  ”Initially scientists saw this art as the way that the people of the Palaeolithic spent their free time, sculpting figurines or decorating their tools,” Palacio points out. His investigation, published in the last edition of Oxford Journal of Archaeology , reveals the reasons for the move from this recreational-decorative interpretation of Palaeolithic art to different one of a religious and symbolic nature.

Those “reasons” are not elucidated in this Science Daily abstract, and I allowed my subscription to Oxford Journal of Archaeology to lapse after neighbors kept stealing it to roll joints with the endnotes. So I went online and was allowed to download one free copy. Here is, I believe, the key explanatory passage:

In short, we must conclude that the conceptual renewal that occurred in Art Theory in the last decade of the nineteenth century was decisive for the attainment of a new explanation for Palaeolithic art. This took place in parallel to an increasing acceptance of the antiquity of the parietal depictions and, without doubt, contributed signi?cantly towards it. The enlargement in the concept of art and the plurality of motivations that were seen behind it, beyond the simple search for beauty, made it possible to establish a correspondence and a continuity between the motifs engraved on antler and bone objects and the parietal art. Cave art would now ?t within the new magic–religious de?nition of ‘primitive art’: ‘It would be too much of an exaggeration to pretend that magic is the only source of art, and deny the role of the instinct of imitation, of adornment, of the social need to express and communicate thought, but the discovery of cave paintings in France and Spain, completing that of sculpted and engraved objects collected in the caves, seems to show that the great increase in art in the Age of Reindeer was related to the development of magic’ (Reinach 1903, 266).

Uh huh . . . uh huh . . . I have no idea what that means either, other than magic = religion, imitation is also a factor, and the Age of Reindeer is not like the Age of Aquarius but apparently a time in history when reindeer comprised a significant food source and therefore were deemed “special” creatures to whom some sort of gratitude was due. Just like today when we pay special homage to Trader Joe, adorning ourselves with T-shirts and waving magic amulets called “discount coupons.”

Ah, the more things change . . .

Articles by Anthony Sacramone

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