Researcher Iegor Reznikoff, a specialist in ancient music at the University of Paris X in Nanterre has discovered a connection between ancient cave paintings and acoustics. In the caves with ancient art the most acoustically resonant places — where sounds linger or reverberate the most — were often the places where the pictures were densest.
The study included various caves in at least ten locations. Wherever there were drawings of horses, bison, and mammoths, the acoustics in the cave best served to amplify and even transform the sounds of human voices and musical instruments such as bone flutes, have been found in decorated caves.
For me, as an artist founding the Post Conceptual UnGraven Image theory of art that can be considered simultaneously both secular and religious, Reznikoff’s discovery of the acoustical significance of the specific caves where the prominent art is located is riveting information. This discovery opens many possibilities, even probabilities about the art found in the caves of Europe, especially France and including Lascaux. Are the paintings symbolic representations of ancient mythologies? Are the strange geometric symbols a kind of notation and writing? Were the shaman-artists the leaders of the tribes?
Like many discoveries, this one was somewhat accidental. Reznikoff first noticed the strategic placement of cave art while visiting Le Portel, a Paleolithic cave in France, in 1983. As an expert in the acoustics of 11th- and 12th-century European churches, Reznikoff often hums to himself when entering a room for the first time so he can “feel its sounds.” His humming quickly pointed to the exceptional acoustical properties of the cave. Research has followed and Reznikoff will present his latest findings this week at the annual meeting of the Acoustics Society of America in Paris.
An article in the National Geographic News cites Paul Pettitt, who is a Paleolithic rock art expert at the University of Sheffield in the U.K. According to Pettitt, who was not involved in the study, “In a number of decorated caves the images cluster in certain areas,” Pettitt said. “They are not randomly distributed but seem deliberately placed, with areas of perfectly ‘paintable’ walls ignored, and in a number of cases the paintings cluster in areas of resonance.”
When the most-resonant spot in a cave was located in a very narrow passageway too difficult for painting, red marks are often found, as if the resonance maximum had to be signified in some way. This correlation of paintings and music, Reznikoff says, provides “the best evidence for the ritualistic meanings of the paintings and of the use of the adorned caves.”
I agree with Reznikoff that some kind of ritualistic event(s) seems to have been taking place in the caves. Clearly the better acoustics and instruments found nearby point to music. For all of humankind, from primitive or aboriginal tribes to the most sophisticated churches, temples and Mosques, spiritual ritual that involves music almost always involves chanting or singing.
Ritual music also involves organizing a group. While there may be spontaneous moments, there is much to be organized and learned.
Unlike the work of a lone artists or shaman-artists who found their way into various caves and painted their visions, much the way an artist like Fra Angelico painted in the cells of his monastery. No, these cave paintings were the concerted effort of a group of people possibly an entire tribe, who worked together to locate the best acoustical caves within a complex. This was more like the work Italian Renaissance masters creating commissioned works for the great churches. They had assistants and they were paid (supported) as they worked.
Reznikoff’s findings point to an ongoing use of the caves, rather than a spontaneous artistic painting or musical concert. Just as it does today, a cooperative group effort occurs when that group shares a purpose along with goals that support it. It seems likely, at least to me, that those cave painters were illustrating their spiritual theologies. This would explain why there are paintings of animals that we think were not hunted or rarely seen. Plus, it would explain some of the strange, but common deliberate abstraction and proportional mistakes. What if the animals depicted were symbolic representations of the gods of the Upper
In the Origin of Humankind, noted fossil hunter Richard Leakey notes that in addition to depiction of the animals, the cave paintings also include dots, grids, chevrons, curves, zig zags, nestled curves, and rectangles. Are these symbols? Is this a very primitive and elementary form of writing concepts or numbers? Whatever it is, it seems to have meaning that a group of people understood, beyond the visionary work of an artist shaman.
It would have been possible just to find good acoustical spots, even outdoors, to make music and tell stories. The need to find the best acoustical caves in which to create the paintings points to the importance of the paintings to an entire group of people. They do not just “happen” to be there. Given the cold and wet weather outside of the caves at the time, painting in the caves indicates that the works were meant to be preserved. It is possible that these people painted outside the caves, at least at some point. How else would they know of the importance of preserving their works away from the elements?
A group effort that supported the work of an artist, an possibly artist assistants makes more sense to me than the notion of the lone artists working in dark caves. Having others help create torch light, find the materials and mix the paints and sticks or brushes makes the endeavors more feasible, especially considering the paint and supplies and torches and perhaps provisions, including water all hade to be carries into each painted cave.
As a group effort the painted caves point to a level of communal wealth for the tribe as there had to be ample food to supply the artists and possibly the musicians. Perhaps the chief artist was also the tribe’s shaman. The new discovery indicates appreciation and support for artistic talent. Another study also reported in Science Daily, indicates that most people can carry a tune. We know that most people cannot paint or draw at the level of the cave painters. Were these ancient painters in ritual leadership roles, or even leading the community?
“Why would the Paleolithic tribes choose preferably resonant locations for painting,” Reznikoff is reported as saying in the article, “if it were not for making sounds and singing in some kind of ritual celebrations related with the pictures?”
Suggested further reading on Reznikoff’s findings can be found at these links: Science Digest and Live Science and National Geographic News
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Judy Rey Wasserman is an artist and the founder of Post Conceptual Art theory and also the branch known as UnGraven Image Art at ungravenimage.com.
Post Conceptual UnGraven Image Art theory is based at the intersection of ancient spiritual wisdom and cutting-edge contemporary science. It shows us a new and enhanced spiritual and science-based way to see the world. It is a life changing vision that can even become an actual new way of seeing that is a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Can this be true? See for yourself.
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