Lascaux Cave Paintings
In Southwest France in the 1940’s, playing children discovered Lascaux Grotto, a series of narrow cave chambers that contain huge prehistoric paintings of animals. Many of these beasts are as large as 16 feet (almost 5 meters). Some follow each other in solemn parades, but others swirl about, sideways and upside down. The animals are bulls, wild horses, reindeer, bison, and mammoths outlined with charcoal and painted mostly in reds, yellow, and browns. Scientific analysis reveals that the colors were derived from ocher and other iron oxides ground into a fine powder. Methods of applying color varied: some colors were brushed or smeared on rock surfaces and others were blown or sprayed. It is possible that tubes made from animal bones were used for spraying because hollow bones, some stained with pigment, have been found nearby.
One of the most puzzling aspects of the paintings is their location. Other rock paintings—for example, those of Bushmen in South Africa—are either located near cave entrances or completely in the open. Cave paintings in France and Spain, however, are in recesses and caverns far removed from original cave entrances. This means that artists were forced to work in cramped spaces and without sources of natural light. It also implies that whoever made them did not want them to be easily found. Since cave dwellers normally lived close to entrances, there must have been some reason why so many generations of Lascaux cave dwellers hid their art.
Scholars offer three related but different opinions about the mysterious origin and significance of these paintings. One opinion is that the paintings were a record of seasonal migrations made by herds. Because some paintings were made directly over others, obliterating them, it is probable that a painting’s value ended with the migration it pictured. Unfortunately, this explanation fails to explain the hidden locations, unless the migrations were celebrated with secret ceremonies.
Another opinion is that the paintings were directly related to hunting and were an essential part of a special preparation ceremony. This opinion holds that the pictures and whatever ceremony they accompanied were an ancient method of psychologically motivating hunters. It is conceivable that before going hunting the hunters would draw or study pictures of animals and imagine a successful hunt. Considerable support exists for this opinion because several animals in the pictures are wounded by arrows and spears. This opinion also attempts to solve the overpainting by explaining that an animal’s picture had no further use after the hunt.
A third opinion takes psychological motivation much further into the realm of tribal ceremonies and mystery: the belief that certain animals assumed mythical significance as ancient ancestors or protectors of a given tribe or clan. Two types of images substantiate this theory: the strange, indecipherable geometric shapes that appear near some animals, and the few drawings of men. Wherever men appear they are crudely drawn and their bodies are elongated and rigid. Some men are in a prone position and some have bird or animal heads. Advocates for this opinion point to reports from people who have experienced a trance state, a highly suggestive state of low consciousness between waking and sleeping. Uniformly, these people experienced weightlessness and the sensation that their bodies were being stretched lengthwise. Advocates also point to people who believe that the forces of nature are inhabited by spirits, particularly shamans* who believe that an animal’s spirit and energy is transferred to them while in a trance. One Lascaux narrative picture, which shows a man with a birdlike head and a wounded animal, would seem to lend credence to this third opinion, but there is still much that remains unexplained. For example, where is the proof that the man in the picture is a shaman? He could as easily be a hunter wearing a headmask. Many tribal hunters, including some Native Americans, camouflaged themselves by wearing animal heads and hides.
Perhaps so much time has passed that there will never be satisfactory answers to the cave images, but their mystique only adds to their importance. Certainly a great art exists, and by its existence reveals that ancient human beings were not without intelligence, skill, and sensitivity.
*shamans: holy people who act as healers and diviners
13. The word others in the passage refers to
14. The word Methods in the passage is closest in meaning to
15. What are the bones found in the Lascaux caves believed to indicate?
Artists painted pictures on both walls and bones.
Artists ground them into a fine powder to make paint.
Artists developed special techniques for painting the walls.
16. Why does the author mention Bushmen in South Africa in paragraph 2?
To contrast the location of their rock paintings to those found at Lascaux
To support the claim that early artists worked in cramped spaces
To give an example of other artists who painted in hidden locations
17. What can be inferred from paragraph 2 about cave painters in France and Spain?
They did not live close to the cave entrances.
They developed their own sources of light to use while painting.
Their painting practices did not last for many years.
18. Why does the author mention secret ceremonies?
To suggest a similarity between two opinions held by scholars
To suggest a possible explanation for a weakness in an opinion expressed in the passage
To give evidence that contradicts a major opinion expressed in the passage
19. The word accompanied in the passage is closest in meaning to
were associated with
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