The Oldest Extant Art

Deep inside the limestone cavern are hundreds of highly animated wall paintings of bison, bear, ibex, lion, rhinoceros, hyena, wooly mammoth, and horse, “signed” by the red-ochre handprints of the artists. The darkly etched charcoal drawings were sketched in the cave’s smoothed chambers, their walls rounded and pocked from water’s eonic hollowing. In the space are also pudding-like towers of calcium drips, whose conical shapes record the geologic heaping of age. The images, now protected as a World Heritage Site, were done between thirty-thousand and thirty-three thousand years ago.

Thomas Larson at 3QD makes the case that the paintings were just one element of a multimedia environment used for entertainment or perhaps for ritual experiences.

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