Did Prehistoric Man enjoy a Primitive version of the Cinema?

We live in an age where TV screens are getting bigger and bigger.  High definition, surround sound, home cinema experience, these are the modern “buzz” words when it comes to choice of a television set.  It seems that these days, at least in terms of televisions that “bigger is best”, or are the advertisers tapping into a primeval instinct held deep within the most primitive part of our brains for a feast of the senses experience when it comes to home entertainment?

A new study by a joint British/Austrian team of researchers studying rock art and cave paintings from around the world suggests that our ancestors created these images as part of a more holistic story telling experience – a feast for the eyes and the ears in the darkness.  Could this be the prehistoric equivalent of going to the cinema to sit in the dark and watch a film with Dolby sound?

Could Cave Paintings and Engravings be a form of Audio-Visual Experience?

Picture Credit: French Ministry of Culture

Carvings in rock found all over Europe dating back to approximately 6,000 years ago share common symbols and images and, what is more they tend to be drawn in the darkest, most hidden of locations perhaps suggesting this artwork was more than mere pictorial illustrations of these ancient people’s lives and environment.

Researchers from Cambridge University (UK) and Sankt Poelten’s University of Applied Sciences (Austria) state that there may be more to these pictures than just simple illustrations.

Frederick Baker of Cambridge University commented:

“The cliff engravings… in our opinion are not just pictures but are part of an audiovisual performance.  There were still no moving image but [the pictures] created sequences like in animation… this was not just a treat for the eyes but also for the ears, as these rock engravings are especially found in locations with particular echoes”.

He went onto add:

“In this sense, the rock engravings are not just static images but pictures that created a story in the mind of the viewer – just like at the cinema.”

In a bid to recreate this audio-visual experience the researchers have teamed up with Weimar’s Bauhaus University in Germany and intend to use computer technology to establish the sequence of images and animate them just like a modern cartoon.

To read a previous article exploring the relationship between cave paintings and sounds: The Link between Sound and Images in Palaeolithic Art

The images, some of which pre-date the Bronze Age, depict scenes such as fights, hunting, animals and dances.  Strangely, women are very rarely portrayed and the team have yet to find a illustration of death.

This animation project is being centred around the northern Lombardy region of Italy, a location with a large cluster of ancient cave art and engravings.  Previous studies have concluded that the siting of such drawings may have been significant.  They are often drawn in the most inaccessible parts of caves, perhaps the locations added to the experience.  Tests on the acoustics in caves also indicate that the illustrations were located in the best place to produce eerie sounds and echoes – perhaps all part of the audio-visual experience for our ancestors.

Wide screen cave painting anybody?

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