Tablet to Tablet: Cave Art and Other Early Mediums

The "Reading the World: Tablet to Tablet" exhibit has sparked our interested in cave art this week at the Mandeville Branch. While touring the exhibit, don't forget to stop by the activity table at the front of the branch where you can create your own cave art!

Even before the stone tablets of Sumeria, civilizations used cave walls as canvases and documented great hunts, rituals, and events important to the society that created them. Some of the most famous cave paintings are in France and Northern Spain, but paintings have been found in Africa, Indonesia, Russia, the Middle East, Mexico, and Australia.

Many people are familiar with cave paintings featuring stampeding bison or hand prints, but until recently little attention has been paid to the geometric markings around the images. However,  paleoanthropologist Genevieve von Petzinger, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, has conducted a new study of the signs. In her book, The First Signs, von Petzinger reports that Ice Age Europeans used just 32 distinct types of geometric symbols over a period of 30,000 years, suggesting that the markings were “meant to transmit information” and were an early step in mankind's journey to create writing.  

Want to learn more about cave paintings?The Bradshaw Foundation has a fantastic website documenting rock art around the world. Check out  Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Werner Herzog's documentary about the Chauvet Cave in France, or The Cave Beneath the Sea, which includes photographs of the stunning underwater Cosquer Cave paintings near Marseilles.


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