Ancient Cavemen Better Artists

Ancient Cavemen Better Artists

One must remember that, for those humans of prehistoric times, the observation of animals was a matter of survival.

The iconic caveman in popular culture is Fred Flintstone: slow-witted and unskilled. In general, we think of the cave art produced by prehistoric people as crude and imprecise too—a mere glimmer of the artistic mastery that would blossom millenia later, during the Renaissance and beyond.

Researchers from Eotvos University in Budapest, Hungary, in analyzing dozens of examples of cave art from various places determined that prehistoric artists were actually better than 19th and 20th century at accurately depicting the way four-legged animals walk.

Those  evaluations were done on the basis of landmark Edward Muybridge 1880s findings -  horses and most four-legged animals move their legs, as they walk, in a particular sequence – this so-called foot-fall formula states that, where L=left, R=right, F=foreleg, H=hindleg the sequence is always LH-LF-RH-RF, was thought to be an entirely novel discovery at the time.

As it now transpires though,  prehistoric people got it right about animal walk patterns in their drawings the majority of the time- when paintings from 39 caves were examined – depicting the motion of four-legged animals considered in the study –  21 got the sequence correct (53.8% successful) as opposed Due to mere chance leading only to a score of half that total, so those ancient cavemen artists clearly knew what they were doing when drawing the creatures.

Studies of 272 much more modern paintings and statues of four-legged animals – made prior to those 1880 Muybridge’s findings – like the iconic horse sketch of Leonardo da Vinci –  turned out much worse, getting the  sequence only 16.5% of the time, and  686 even more recent artworks still only got the sequence right 42.1% of the time, meaning that ancient cavemen were considerably better artists in that one regard.

 The question is, of course, how prehistoric humans could possibly be so skilled at depicting animals, but one must remember that, for those humans of prehistoric times, the observation of animals was a matter of survival. They were much more directly connected to nature, so that the creators of such cave paintings and carvings were naturally more accurate observers of their subjects, and thus managed to depicting the animals walking in a more realistic way.

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OhSugar, posted this comment on Dec 8th, 2012

Great article. I have seen, in books, the artwork of the cavemen and have always thought how intelligent they were. I don’t think it matters which era one is from, intelligence can be found.

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