Friday, 2 October 2015

The Palaeolithic artist: part 25

Plano de la cueva de Altamira. los números son los que asigno Henri Breuil.
map: Nachosan
The artist would enter the cave alone carrying a very small lamp made from half of a bivalve seashell, the fuel being bison fat (tallow). While bison is leaner than modern beef, palaeolithic bison would still contain ample fat, unlike deer. Horse could also have been used but bison would still be better. Wicks could have been made from many available materials. Over the lamp, a framework of wicker would hold (beneath its top) a cone made from dried bison rawhide which would trap the soot (anyone with much experience with candles will understand how no measurable amount of soot would escape from the sides). The ideal height of such a lamp would be about 15-20 cm. Much more than this and the natural swellings in the rock face would be far less visible and these rock swelling were frequently utilized in the designs painted upon them. The artist would also carry his or her painting equipment and pigments ground (and made into an oil-pastel) in a drying oil (bison fat would be useless for such a task as it does not dry). The ideal oil would be poppy seed oil and the obvious advantage of having this on hand would be the opiate, hallucinogenic use of the exudation from the poppy pods. I would go so far as to say that the mind-altering use of poppy pods would certainly have been utilized by these people. Hollow bones would have been used to create an airbrush for use over a "hand stencil" and likely, too, to create transitions of colours on the paintings of animals (the Altamira paintings are famous for having such transitions).

It is fairly obvious that entire animals would not have been dragged into the cave to serve as models. This leaves us with two alternatives: preliminary drawings on rawhide or the inner layers of bark, or that the artist possessed a photographic memory (for reasons that will be revealed later, I think the latter is very possible).

The main reason for the artist to be alone has nothing to do with conservation. It is because the cave must be experienced at an unconscious level in order to not only access the aesthetic sense (which is "deeper" in the unconscious than the dream-state), but to stimulate the "numinous" qualities at that level (which most likely are already enhanced through the use of opiates and possibly other hallucinogens). Besides the experiential value, it would also serve to duplicate the same numinous feeling of the observers of the art who might not be exposed to mind-altering drugs (it would be a more effective plan to have the observers experience everything without such drugs and the effect would seem magical to them, thus).

So that is how it was done. Monday, what can be learned about the artists' minds by people with a specific psychology who would be the only sort of people capable of that task.

Have a numinous weekend.

John's Coydog Community page


  1. Hello John:
    Belated Birthday Greetings mate and welcome to the Coffin Dodgers. I'll raise a glass at the next opportunity. Cheers!

    John Howland

    1. Thanks John -- make it a bitter (can't find a decent one in these parts).