In his article titled ‘The First Artists’ in this month’s edition of the National Geographic Magazine, Chris Walter recalls a very interesting –and rather convincing- argument about what some archaeologists consider to be history’s earliest ‘flip-book’ or animated film inside the famous Prehistoric cave of Chauvet in France! Here:
“In his book La Préhistoire du Cinéma, filmmaker and archaeologist Marc Azéma argues that some of these ancient artists were the world’s first animators, and that the artists’ superimposed images combined with flickering firelight in the pitch-black caves to create the illusion that the paintings were moving. “They wanted to make these images lifelike,” says Azéma. He has re-created digital versions of some cave images that illustrate the effect. The Lion Panel in Chauvet’s deepest chamber is a good example. It features the heads of ten lions, all seemingly intent on their prey. But in the light of a strategically positioned torch or stone lamp, these ten lions might be successive characterizations of just one lion, or perhaps two or three, moving through a story, much like the frames of a flip-book or animated film. Beyond the lions stands a cluster of rhinoceroses. The head and horn of the top one are repeated staccato-like six times, one image above the other, as if thrusting upward, its whole body shuddering with multiple outlines.
Azéma’s interpretation fits with that of eminent prehistorian Jean Clottes—the first scientist to enter Chauvet, only days after its discovery. Clottes believes the images in the cave were intended to be experienced much the way we view movies, theater, or even religious ceremonies today—a departure from the real world that transfixed its audience and bound it in a powerful shared experience. “It was a show!” says Clottes.
Thousands of years later you can still feel the power of that show as you walk the chambers of the cave, the sound of your own breath heavy in your ear, the constant drip, drip of the water falling from the walls and ceilings. In its rhythm you can almost make out the thrum of ancient music, the beat of the dance, as a storyteller casts the light of a torch upon a floating image, and enthralls the audience with a tale.”
Another quote from the article:
“The greatest innovation in the history of humankind was neither the stone tool nor the steel sword, but the invention of symbolic expression by the first artists.”
True. We now live in a world dominated by symbols: from traffic signs to computer icons and smartphone Apps… it would never have been possible without someone first inventing a system of symbols and abstractions that would express ideas, emotions and actions. This ‘someone’ happened to be the Neanderthal Man, our immediate ‘predecessor’.
For the full article: