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As an artist whose work is inspired by the cave paintings of Lascaux, I am always on the lookout for new books about the prehistoric cave art of Europe. This book is a delightful addition to my collection. I should caution that I approach books like this strictly from a layman's and artist's point of view, as I have a limited background in archeology.
Before I read this book, I'd always considered the cave art of Lascaux as the "birthplace of human art" (which was how it was presented in most of my art history courses at school.) Now I realize that the artists of that period are actually almost exactly halfway, timewise, between the earliest evidence of prehistoric art, and the art of today. Each new discovery of prehistoric cave art seems to push back the "birthdate" of human art a few tens of thousands of years.
Rather than focusing on a single cave site, this book is a more comprehensive treatment of Ice age art, discussing caves across Europe, with references to caves in Russia and China. It presents a more complete treatment of all aspects of these caves, discussing anthropological characteristics of the people who created the art, similarities and differences in the artwork, theories about their signicance(mostly debunked here), forgeries, history of the caves' discovery, etc. The photographs are excellent, and many are of paintings and objects I've never seen before. The writing, though comprehensive, is also entertaining and engaging, a good read. I enjoyed this book immensely.
This book is unique to me for several reasons. First, the wonderful photographs not only feature the more widely known paintings inside the caves (referred to in the book as "parietal art" or wall art), but also the artifacts found in conjunction with the paintings--"portable art". I found more photographs of such objects than in any other book I've read. Many are of artifacts I've never read about before.
Also, almost every possible theory ever presented to explain these paintings and artifacts is examined--and most of them debunked. Somehow, this is reassuring to me as an artist--although it would be exciting to understand more about the purpose of the art, it is also satisfying to realize that there is still no encompassing theory about why these amazing paintings and artifacts were created. Their mystery is still profound, intact and untouched. The various theories and conjecture throughout the years about these caves, argues the author, clearly reveals more about US, as modern people, than it does about the cultures that created the cave art. We overlay our desires, prejudices and blind spots onto the art, and for the last 150 years, observers have tended to "find" what they are looking for in the paintings.
There is a whole chapter devoted to fakes and forgeries of Ice Age art, a subject I find fascinating. My favorite phrase in this chapter is a caption of a photograph (p. 81)"...the dot and plantlike sign near the dreadful hand stencil appeared after the first photographs were taken."
In summary, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in archeology, cave paintings, art history, and art.