Wednesday, January 4, 2012 at 7:44AM | Micah Ling
One of the world’s greatest discoveries. Not science. Not medicine. Not philosophy or religion. But the genesis of all these things—observation, reflection, expression. Culture. The Chauvet paintings are 32,000 years old—more than twice as old as any other known cave paintings. At Chauvet, primitive humans invented symbolism, and, director Werner Herzog argues, cinema. The paintings do document the artists’ surroundings. The paintings illustrate with exquisite sensitivity the solemn curve of a lion’s cheekbone, the vigorous thrust of a rhino’s saber-like horn. Our ancestors would have loved the Planet Earth series. But like a film, the paintings are edited. There are striking omissions. Just one partial depiction of a human being—a voluptuous woman’s torso, intriguingly close to a woolly bison head. Also, no sign of the landscape or the climate at that time—glacial ice and perpetual sun. The cave was an artist’s den—no humans lived there—and some overlapping paintings were completed over 5,000 years apart. To us, it’s as if no time passed at all. Meanwhile, great evolutionary leaps had taken place that would eventually lead to modern humans. The latest Chauvet cave artist, Herzog, canvassed the murals with his own painting, a film.