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The Art That Time Forgot
September 25, 2012 11:07 AM   Subscribe

Why does some cave art feature animals with multiple limbs and heads? French and Finnish researchers claim that prehistoric man was deliberately creating animated art, with the animals appearing to move in flickering torch or fire light.
posted by Wordshore (29 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Talk about your unfalsifiable hypotheses.

Or, rather, save talk about your unfalsifiable hypotheses for the cocktail party circuit, please.
posted by yoink at 11:10 AM on September 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


In Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Werner Herzog says he thinks the paintings are simulating movement as well. I trust Wener Herzog in all things, so there you go. Case closed as far as I'm concerned.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:13 AM on September 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


Maybe those extra limbs were just the cave-man equivalent of Bob Ross' "happy little accidents".
posted by saulgoodman at 11:16 AM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I always figure they were just way ahead of the multifurry curve.
posted by egypturnash at 11:18 AM on September 25, 2012


A really brilliant insight-- and I fail to see what's unfalsifiable about it; simply take a torch and see if the legs seem to move, and then make your argument from shared physiology (not to mention that unfalsifiability is an almost trivially invalid criterion because it is itself unfalsifiable).
posted by jamjam at 11:18 AM on September 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Cthulhu cult!
posted by Currer Belfry at 11:18 AM on September 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


In Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Werner Herzog says he thinks the paintings are simulating movement as well.

I loved that film, but man does Herzog say some ridonkulous crap in his narration; after a while you begin to wonder if he isn't deliberately pulling our legs. Of course, it all pales into insignificance beside the hilarious nonsense about the albino alligators and the nuclear power plant at the end of the film.
posted by yoink at 11:20 AM on September 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


and I fail to see what's unfalsifiable about it; simply take a torch and see if the legs seem to move

The problematic claim is not "the legs seem to move when you look at them in torchlight." The problematic claim is "the reason they painted these legs was because they liked the effect of the legs seeming to move under flickering torchlight." It is impossible to bring forward any evidence for or against that second claim; it is, therefore, nothing more than idle speculation.
posted by yoink at 11:23 AM on September 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Odin's horse didn't make it onto the Ark. Obviously.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:27 AM on September 25, 2012


I loved that film,

I especially liked his interview technique in that film. The camera sort of sneaking up on people, who were clearly posed like some sort of tableau vivant, like he just happened to find them standing there, and launching into questions.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:29 AM on September 25, 2012


And just to add a little: this is not innocent speculation. Smuggled into an idea like this are all sorts of assumptions about the past and about the purpose of these works that betray a hopelessly prejudiced and tendentious judgment about the works. For example, it is premised on an assumption that these people must be "just like us" (i.e., we like animated images, therefore if we can find anything approximating an animated image in these works, they must have liked that too). It presumes a way of consuming these images as "entertainment" ("oooh, look at those legs flicker, Thrag!") which we cannot justify. It presumes a desire for the "representational" ("You know, Thrag, these bison paintings are great and all, but, dammit, bison MOVE and your paintings don't--isn't there something you can do about that"?) which, again, we simply cannot know to be the case--and so on and so on and so on.

Saying "you know what, in flickering light these look kinda like they're moving, and I think that's cool" is fine. Presuming that just because you find it cool you therefore have some automatic insight into the intentions of long dead people from a long dead culture is presumptuous, unscientific nonsense.
posted by yoink at 11:30 AM on September 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


Ha! As if prehistoric man could send cave walls to South Korea for finishing.
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:37 AM on September 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


Same reason why many Hindu idols have multiple limbs; it is supposed to symbolize continuous movement. The limb positions of Shiva in the pose of the Nataraj are classical Indian dance poses.
posted by Renoroc at 11:37 AM on September 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


"French, Finnish researchers find new way to place cart before the horse!"
posted by clvrmnky at 11:38 AM on September 25, 2012


Can I get an animation of flickering light on the cave paintings por favor? What the hell news and journals? It's not like we don't have a single picture of these things that you couldn't throw up with your articles. Sometimes I hate the media because they ignore the medium.
posted by rebent at 12:00 PM on September 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


This isn't a new idea. I have a Mickey Mouse Club Magazine from spring 1956 that postulates the same thing.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:02 PM on September 25, 2012


Can I get an animation of flickering light on the cave paintings por favor?

I was jsut thinking it would make a neat cinemagraph.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:06 PM on September 25, 2012


La prehistoire du cinema.
posted by mareli at 12:28 PM on September 25, 2012


Ordinary claims require ordinary evidence.
 
posted by Herodios at 12:50 PM on September 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


The scientists at the Roc-au-Sorcier prehistoric site, which features an impressive series of Magdalenian (15000 BCE) bas-relief carvings, actually demonstrate the effect for the visitors. I'm not sure it's totally convincing in this particular case, but it's a cool hypothesis.
posted by elgilito at 1:08 PM on September 25, 2012


The problematic claim is "the reason they painted these legs was because they liked the effect of the legs seeming to move under flickering torchlight." It is impossible to bring forward any evidence for or against that second claim; it is, therefore, nothing more than idle speculation.

I guess it's a good thing then that they don't actually claim that.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 1:09 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Juranessic
posted by homunculus at 1:16 PM on September 25, 2012


Why do we insist there were reasons that made people tell stories about centaurs, cyclops, etc? Why do we insist that there must have been a reason for people to paint pictures with multiple limbs?

Could it not be just simple imagination? Could it not be just a matter of being cool? Could it not be just the uncountable greats grandfather of Lovecraft, King, Brothers Hildebrandt, etc?
posted by 2manyusernames at 2:04 PM on September 25, 2012


As I recollect they have Assyrian statues in the Louvre that feature some extra legs for which they were providing the same explanation 'round about 1999/2000. Larger pieces, they were the sort of thing that one would see while approaching/entering a city gate, I believe.
posted by mr. digits at 3:02 PM on September 25, 2012


mr. digits: "The sculptures were meant to be seen in one of two ways- from the front looking directly at the face, or from the side as the viewer entered the king's throne room. Therefore the figures are sculpted with five legs- two that can be seen from the front view and four that can be seen from the side. This would indicate that the figure was a four legged beast, but the extra leg was added so that the side view made visual sense."
posted by larrybob at 5:33 PM on September 25, 2012


I guess it's a good thing then that they don't actually claim that.

Er, wut?

I would ask if you read the links, but in this case it's more a question of whether you read the FPP. That's the whole burden of the claim--that these effects were deliberately cultivated by the original artists.
posted by yoink at 10:05 PM on September 25, 2012


I don't think the "they made this art to have a particular effect" claim is any more non-falsifiable than the "this is art, period" claim is.

At some point you have to either go with a skinnerian "there's no way to know what other people are thinking" or with an argument more like "they were just as smart as us with the same needs and desires and were perfectly capable of either drawing like this or avoiding drawing like this if they wanted or didn't want this effect".
posted by DU at 5:49 AM on September 26, 2012


I don't think the "they made this art to have a particular effect" claim is any more non-falsifiable than the "this is art, period" claim is.

That depends what you mean by the word "art." If you mean that they drew these because they enjoyed the aesthetic properties of the images, then, yeah, you're making a non-falsifiable claim that, as an archeologist, you should not make. If you're using it simply in a neutral sense of "these are painted representations" then no, that's not non-falsifiable.

But the argument that "hey, they could have avoided drawing like this if they didn't want this effect" is, frankly, unconvincing. In order to enjoy this "effect" you have to stage it quite deliberately, and you have to presume a certain way of "consuming" these images: you have to, for example, hold the torch light at a certain distance from the image (bring the torch too close and you'll lost the 'flicker'). That is to assume, then, an aestheticized relationship to the images: it is to assume that the beholder is approaching these works primarily in something akin to the state of the modern museum-goer: "No, Thrag, if you really want to enjoy Grog's latest paintings properly you'll need to step back a bit and move this torch over here--now, kinda unfocus your eyes a little and watch--see how the buffalo seems to actually be running?"

But we have no clue, at all, if that is the kind of attention that was given to these works. We don't know if people came to admire these paintings at all. It could be that only the artist was supposed to witness them and that the real "point" was not in looking at the finished product but in painting it in the first place. We don't know if one artist drew multiple legs on any of these animals or if generations passed between the artist who drew the first set of legs and the artist who drew the next set. In short, we simply do not know enough to make the ridiculously presumptuous claim that they were deliberately attempting to make primitive cinematographs.

In general it is not a sound anthropological principle to start from the position that "well, people are all pretty much the same as me, really."
posted by yoink at 9:59 AM on September 26, 2012


Neither a new idea, nor a scientific one (since it's unprovable).

"Researchers" is a stretch here.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:42 PM on September 26, 2012


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