Cave paintings of extinct animals
June 20, 2011 1:39 AM   Subscribe

In Paul Johnson's Art: A New History the author writes... Cave art portrays human hands; large numbers of animals in different activities, including various species, such as the woolly rhinoceros, which are now extinct, and a few which were extinct even at the time they were painted;.... How do we think this worked? Do we believe that artists replicated representations of animals from earlier painting when there were no living examples to study? Is the record of animal extinctions precise enough that we can confidently assert that a given animal was extinct when they were painted?
posted by rdr to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think it worked by writing bullshit in a book. Does the author provide any reliable citations of animals "which were extinct even at the time they were painted"?
posted by IAmBroom at 2:49 AM on June 20, 2011 [5 favorites]

Myths and legends were passed down.
posted by fire&wings at 4:03 AM on June 20, 2011

The only species we can speak about with confidence are those we've found fossil evidence of, and even for those the dating is a range as opposed to an exactitude - which also applies to the dating of cave paintings. We can say that we found no fossils of x species after y date, but that's pretty meaningless when you consider that have fossil evidence for just a tiny fraction of all the living things that ever lived, and the bits we do have aren't much.
Human/pre-human skeletons have been found at the same site, dated hundreds of thousands of years apart - if we'd found only one, would we have assumed that sort of longevity?

tl;dr: what IAmBroom said.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 4:20 AM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm an art historian and as far as I know this is BS. Paleontologists have verified that some of the animals depicted don't exist any more, but I've never heard that the cave painters showed animals that weren't part of their everyday lives.

It's a cool idea, though, that they were memorializing their own mythology. I wish it were true.
posted by venividivici at 4:38 AM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is there really any evidence that these were intended to be true representations of what they were seeing? I think you have to allow for artistic license.
posted by Gilbert at 10:21 AM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

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