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The first intellectual expressions of humankind lead us back to times immemorial. The discovery of our roots raises profound questions that affect the very identity of our species. In some prehistoric sites it has been noticed that hominids used to collect, transport and store stones and animal bones with particular shapes or colours, already during the Lower Palaeolithic period. It is not easy to decide whether this attitude towards collecting should be regarded as an indication of certain intellectual capacities. In order to do this, it would be useful to understand the aims and the purposes of such behaviours.

1. Introduction

What is the meaning, in terms of conceptuality, of the symmetry which Acheulian hunters gave to their amygdales already 500,000 years ago? These are sharp instruments worked on two sides, on which a sinuous blade forms along the perimeter where the two faces meet. According to our twentieth century taste, these tools are very elegant from an aesthetic point of view. It has not yet been ascertained whether this shape, which is considered slender and elegant today, was motivated by practical reasons or by more aesthetic motivations.

Some scholars have explained the shape of the amygdale with the intellectual capacity of its creators; of course these capacities would be even greater if, apart from its practical purposes, the symmetry of this tool were motivated by aesthetic needs. This idea is not implausible, but still needs to be verified. The signs engraved on stones and bones coming from European sites, have been dated back to very ancient times, especially by some scholars including François Bordes (1969), Piero Leonardi (1975) and, more recently, R.G.Bednarik (1995). Some fragments from the Lower Palaeolithic period engraved with scratches and signs are known which, if they were found to be intentional and justified by cognitive factors, would be a sign of attempts, not necessarily graphic or aesthetic in nature, but at the execution of signs possibly of a numeric kind; this would indicate the presence of symbolism and conceptuality.

Some groups of lines engraved on stones and bones, from Bilzingsleben in Germany, suggest a sort of “game” inspired by the discovery that with a spike it was possible to draw signs (D. Mania & U. Mania, Deliberate Engravings on Bone Artefacts Qf Homo Erectus, 1988). There have also been reports about an alleged Acheulian “female statue” in Israel, but this is probably a ludum naturae, a trick of nature (see also N. Goren-Inbar, 1986). There have also been reports about Acheulian stone art in India dating back to more than 300,000 years and other similar questionable news. Occasional findings have been made with signs of rubbing or usage, covered with lines and other non-figurative engravings or in some cases scratches and parallel lines both in Europe and in the Near East which date back to the period of Musterian culture, also described as Middle Palaeolithic in technical literature.

The dating and arguments about these findings, however, do not always allow for their precise collocation. For the moment the only substantial engraving attributed to the Middle Palaeolithic is a group of cupels on a piece of stone found in La Ferrassie, in the Dordogne region, whose dating is also uncertain. Neanderthal men have left in their habitation sites rare bone fragments with engravings, parts of which show traces of working or attempts at cutting by using a chert, while others are graphically intentional, such as a zigzag engraving found in Bacho-Kiro, in Bulgaria. Some of these probably have a numeric meaning. On the cover stone of the above mentioned tomb in La Ferrassie, some cupels are engraved, cup-shaped holes which have been interpreted in different ways by the scholars.

Some say they serve a practical purpose, for others they are an early figurative attempt whose representative meaning has been explained in various ways. In Quneitra on the Golan Heights in the Syrian-Palestine area, a chert fragment has been discovered on the surface of which parallel lines and concentric semicircles are drawn on a layer of Musterian culture, dated at about 54,000 years ago by using the ESR (Electron Spin Resonance) method (A. Marshack, A Middle Paleolithic Symbolic Composition from the Golan Heights, 1996). Fragments of colouring materials, such as okra red or manganese oxide, have often been found in Musterian layers, some of them show traces of use, sharpening on the point, signs of rubbing. They were definitely used to colour something, probably human bodies or the skins and fibres which men used to make clothing and other tools. Unfortunately the organic substances have not been preserved and so we can only make hypotheses about them. What is certain is that these products served to colour something which is a clear sign of an aesthetic or symbolic research, that is an intellectual fact in itself. It is therefore possible to say that Neanderthal men have left some bone fragments with engraved markings. It is also possible to talk about the use of colourings, but there are no sufficient indications of a visual language and thus of a visual art.

In Africa, especially in Tanzania and Namibia, colouring materials that seem to have been used were found in archaeological layers inside caves with stone art on many layers covering the last 50,000 years. Once again it is not possible to say what exactly was being coloured and when humans started to produce art. Neanderthal men lived in Europe and the Near East between 100,000 and 35,000 years ago and produced stone objects on fragments of a Musterian kind; during the same period in East Africa and the Near East there were men already very similar from a physical point of view to the Homo Sapiens that arrived in Europe at the beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic period. More than 50,000 years ago, in Tanzania, they had stone products including highly specialised and diversified “blade” tools: blades, spikes, stylets, scratchers and microliths of the kind used in Europe and the Near East about 35,000 years ago at the beginning, that is, of the Upper Palaeolithic period. Neanderthal men have been classified by some scholars as Homo Sapiens neanderthalensis. We refer to them as Neanderthal Men, using the term Sapiens only for the individuals who arrived in Europe during the Upper Palaeolithic period; we have also dropped the redundant second Sapiens from the term Homo Sapiens Sapiens. The expression Homo Sapiens is used by scholars in many different ways. For some it only refers to individuals whose skeleton has some modern somatic characteristics.

The latter have been found in some individuals for more than 100,000 years, while other archaic skeleton traits can still be found, although very rarely, in some individuals. For other scholars, the expression Sapiens refers to the brain characteristics of the individual and, in particular, the ability to synthesise, abstract and associate ideas revealed by the production of visual art and by the production of complex, highly specialised product groups with precisely diversified forms. These signs of “knowledge” can be found in Europe, the Near East and in the Mediterranean area during the Upper Palaeolithic period. Visual art, with its representative figures or pictograms and signs or ideograms, voluntarily combined in groups, is a phenomenon that as far as we know originated about 40,000 years ago. Graphical ability involves the presence of analithic capacities, association and abstraction which already seem to appear in Neanderthal men while the question of what happened previously is still open. Although various attempts and reports have been made on the subject, according to the author for the moment there are no findings which can be defined as art dating back to the Middle or Lower Palaeolithic periods. With the arrival of the Homo Sapiens and his ability to produce art forms, the presence of some traits that today are considered essentially “human” is revealed. These beings actually appear to have acquired most of the characteristics we regard as “human” and also had many of the communication and planning skills which have been known since then up to the present day.

2. The First Signs

Some general remarks can be made about the ability to conceptualise. Creativity and imagination lead both to rationality and to irrational expressions. The discovery of the self and the relation between the subject and the surrounding world has always encouraged the search for “supernatural” factors which have definitely played an essential role during the formation period of human beings. Every experience, every new situation, every unsolved problem might have been attributed to sacred reasons. Apart from the finding of tombs that show indications of funereal ceremonies and are an essential source of information about ideology, there are other aspects which could be interpreted as forms of conceptualisation. Numerous archaeological discoveries have been explained with religious motivations, but there is scarce evidence to justify this idea.

At the moment there are a number of data that have been interpreted in a religious way, but in most cases there are no decisive or sufficiently plausible factors. As the author already wrote (E. Anati: Le Radici della Cultura, 1992; La Religione Originale 1995), several findings seem to demonstrate specifically ritual attitudes that have been defined as the cult of bones, of aggressive animals such as the bear and the wolf, the cult of objects, rites of passage and propitiatory rites. The few certain findings have led to a massive production of literature because they have stimulated the reasoning and the imagination of scholars. The most ancient certain document showing a belief of human beings in the supernatural is connected with one of the phenomena that has not ceased to stimulate human thinking ever since, concerning a reality that affects us all, namely the end of life and the facing of death. This is also linked with the need that humans have to explain to themselves not only what death is and what comes after it, but also the significance of life. This is a very profound question which humans have always wondered about and has led to suggestions, created religions, philosophies and scientific disciplines, and which still has not found a satisfactory answer. The ritual attitude towards the dead does not seem to derive directly from a rational logic based on the three basic instincts of eating, defending one´s life and continuing the species; on an irrational level it is however connected with these three factors. The dead were buried in sepulchral areas with a constant ritual common to various places in the European and Asiatic area of the Musterian culture. This shows that there was a uniform widespread tradition. In the Near East, in the cave of Skhul on Mount Carmel, in Central Asia in Teshik-Tash, in Europe at Le Moustier and La Chapelle-aux-Saints in France there are clear analogies in the way the living treated their dead. During the Middle Palaeolithic period there are already signs of “grave goods”. At Le Moustier, in a grave that raises many questions, the author of the discovery, Denis Peyrony, has found animal bones still in an articulate position, although they had been cut on both sides.

The scholar was thus able to say that a piece of meat had been placed near the dead. La Ferrassie is probably the most interesting burial area of the Middle Palaeolithic period in Europe. It contains several tombs and here again food has been placed near the dead. The animal bones are what remains of the meat offered. Neanderthal men show a strange behaviour: the act of burying meant acknowledging that the person is no longer alive, that his/her life has come to an end. However, they put food near them so they could find something to eat. Does this mean the person was not completely “dead”? Should the food provided and buried near them have been the meal they would take before reaching the final destination? This simple act might be an indication of a belief in life after death. The hope of an afterlife has not ceased motivating the behaviour of human beings ever since. In any case, the ritual attitude towards the dead indicates the belief that the latter still had vital energies and thus deserved care and consideration. If there still was some energy present in them, it could be used for good or for evil. Certainly these emotional factors led the living to take care of their dead. As we shall see later on, during the Upper Palaeolithic period art reveals a similar attitude towards animals. Dreams and other unconscious phenomena might have led to the ideology at the basis of conceptuality. Middle Palaeolithic men living in Eurasia had a precise conception of life after death, which probably involved the belief in a passage or a journey from this life to the next. This also seems to imply the belief in a supernatural, or better extraterrestrial, world.

In other words we can say that these beings believed in the survival of the “soul” once the body was dead. The dead shifted from one world to another, carrying with them the remembrance of the good or bad relations they had with the living who, in turn, would reach the same destination one day. These speculations on irrationality develop together with the indications of the presence of “rational” thinking. Apart from the artistic forms, the behaviour towards the dead and the presence of objects which probably had a ritual use, such complexity of human thinking is revealed by the appearance of a new technology for the production of stone tools for daily use which become much more complex and articulate, thus implying a rational use of the raw material and a planned production of the artefacts. There are also other data supporting the presence of an articulate conceptuality before the arrival of the Homo Sapiens (E. Anati, La Religione Originale, 1995). It is certainly possible to talk about precedents and the presence of an articulate conceptuality already before the appearance of the Homo Sapiens during the Middle Palaeolithic period. There is evidence that men practised ritual cannibalism, the cult of skulls and of animals. The available data can be interpreted in various ways and, even though there are clear signs of ritualistic behaviour, it is not always clear to what extent this can be defined as a religious attitude. However, it is definitely possible to talk about conceptuality at least since the beginning of the Middle Palaeolithic period, that is for the past 100,000 years.

In particular, with reference to the attitude towards the dead, there are concepts concerning the vision of an extra-terrestrial life, the belief in life after death and intellectual considerations about human existence. In the Syrian-Palestine area, during the transitional phase between the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic period the oldest sanctuary has been discovered where humans show a particular interest in interpreting nature and where this interest becomes a sort of “proto-art” whose protagonists are probably Sapiens in their own right. The data concerning the intellectual aspects before the arrival of Homo Sapiens mostly come from the area where the largest amount of research has been carried out, namely Europe and the Syrian-Palestine area. Much less is known about the other two continents where traces of previous hominids have been found. Africa and Asia are virtually unknown from this point of view and will undoubtedly be a source of many surprises in the future. In America and Oceania, in spite of statements to the contrary and occasional announcements of “revolutionary” discoveries, there are no certain elements showing the presence of man before the widespread expansion of the Homo Sapiens. This is not impossible, but it has not been proved yet, even though some colleagues will not agree with the author. The clearest documents concerning conceptuality, for the moment, come from Europe and the Near East and refer to the cult of the dead. They reveal human concern with mortality and the search for an afterlife. It is not yet possible to talk about these phenomena in terms of a well-structured religion, but there were definitely beliefs, concepts and even rules to be followed, traditional rites concerning the way of burying the dead and the choice of the place. Those who did this were certainly representatives of the Neanderthal group, which became completely and mysteriously extinct with the arrival of the Homo Sapiens. The above mentioned sanctuary, known as site HK86B of Har Karkom in the Israeli desert of Negev, shows the first signs of the conceptual factors which will be found later in Palaeolithic wall art.

The first signs of structuring of the religious concept, with precise rules, are shown by the phenomenon of artistic creativity in humans living during the Upper Palaeolithic period. Inside the sanctuary-caves, more than 300,000 years ago, the Homo Sapiens created objects for ritual use, produced wonderful works of art inspired by mythology and by other aspects of conceptuality and held rites linked to his beliefs. The wall and furniture art, the findings made inside these “sanctuaries” bear witness to the existence and development of extremely complex beliefs, if compared to the Middle Palaeolithic period; they also testify to the presence of widespread ritual practices and of places set aside for intellectual activities, such as artistic creativity and worship.

3. Conceptuality of the Homo Sapiens

The Darwinian theory according to which art and conceptuality gradually developed from the Pithecanthropus onwards, is being questioned in the light of recent research discoveries. Today the conceptual and technological evolution are seen as a series of steps; each of them being the result of a combination of causes, but especially of new mental capacities. The human species has been inhabiting the earth for more than four million years. During its existence men´s capacity to express himself and operate in various ways have developed. Sometimes the production of a new tool is the cause and effect of new mental skills, sometimes changes in the climate and in the resources have forced behavioural adaptations. With the arrival of Homo Sapiens a revolution took place in the mechanism of logic, in the way of thinking and in the abstraction and synthesis capacities; this is an unprecedented revolution as far as we know, both in the stages of human evolution as well as of other animal species. Although Darwinian theories are still alive in some environments and attempts have been made at attributing visual art findings at a very ancient date, comparative analysis provides increasing evidence that there is a connection between the arrival of Homo Sapiens and the origin of the arts.

A series of data, which will be examined later on, seems to point to a solution of the debate among evolutionists following various trends on the subject of the origin of the species. The Darwinian theory according to which Homo Sapiens would be the result of an evolution process with parallel manifestations in various parts of the globe, appears to be in contrast with some common features of “Sapiens” humanity, which would explain it as the result of a series of coincidences unlikely to happen again. These same coincidences, which will be discussed later, seem to indicate that these new human beings had a common origin, that is they originated in a well-defined area, possibly as a result of a particular configuration or of some other possible factors leading to precise microgenetic mutations. Starting from their birthplace, presumably in Africa, they began to reproduce and to reach the other continents. Recent findings also seem to indicate that, while the Neanderthal man lived in Europe and the Near East, individuals very similar to the Homo Sapiens as for mental capacities and methods used for the creation and use of tools, who arrived in Europe during the Upper Palaeolithic period, were already developing in Eastern and austral Africa. The hypothesis of a union between a primitive “father” and “mother” that originated our species, brings us back to the collective mythical memory of the Adam and Eve epic, wonderful allegory of the original myth. Two individuals, or rather two groups of individuals, would be the forefathers of the Homo Sapiens, a new kind of human being with a data-storing capacity much higher that his predecessors, with a longer childhood period and a particular set of somatic traits, but especially with very peculiar brain capacities which provided horn with a new emotional dimension and intellectual disposition.

These are all mental mechanisms of association, symbolisation, abstraction and sublimation that are still part of the universal characteristics of the Homo Sapiens. Humans also became artists, and maybe art production is not only a capacity, but rather a natural need for human beings. From that moment on, humans acquired a certain visual, conceptual and communicative outlook, which fits into the framework of a new way of reacting to the surrounding world and relating to it. Without these qualities the human relations that characterise us would not exist, we would not have deep emotional and affective relations, the kind of interaction that allows us to communicate and exchange ideas with other humans approaching them with intensity and awareness would not exist, and our mind would not ask itself the questions without which no intellectual thinking goes on. When prehistoric art in the various continents was studied and regarded as a series of local isolated phenomena, the world record was easily attributed to every oldest local manifestation discovered. Europeans thought art had originated on their continent at the beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic period, their Indian colleagues maintained that art had originated in India more or less during the same period and the same can be said about Russian scholars who had found the primary, and according to some the oldest, nucleus of artistic expression around Lake Baikal in Siberia. Furthermore, the discoveries made by W.E. Wendt in Namibia had provided reliable very ancient dating, so that some scholars at the beginning of the 70´s suggested that art might have originated in Africa, thus raising a heated debate. Now Australians claim they have the record of the most ancient findings.

In Namibia the digging carried out by W.E. Wendt inside the Apollo 11 cave brought to light various stone tablets with pictures of animals, some of which polychromatic, on an archaeological level dated by three Carbon 14 examinations respectively at 28,400, 26,700 and 26,300 years (W.E. Wendt, 1976). Dendrochronology shows that C 14 dates tend to make findings younger and have therefore to be adjusted; in fact they should be increased by 15 to 20% in order to calculate the real age. The fact remains that they are polychromatic, refined and highly developed works which certainly show the existence of a long-standing tradition before them. It is surprising to note the stylistic and thematic similarity between these paintings and other artistic products found in Europe and in other continents. In Europe, however, polychromatic figures of the same kind are Magdalenian and date back to about 10,000- 15,000 years later. For the moment the most ancient elements have not been identified. but cave paintings, in the same style as the tablets found by Wendt have been discovered on the walls of small caves laid in stratigraphy above older figures. In Tanzania a series of very ancient cave paintings has been found, one of their most recent phases corresponding, from a stylistic point of view, to the tablets of Apollo 11.

The beginning date of the Tanzanian sequence is not known; at the foot of a painted wall in a small cave, however, residues of colouring substances have been found which show signs of use, in archaeological layers dated with the C14 method at more than 40,000 years ago (E. Anati, BCSP, vol. 23, 1986, page 15). Austral Africa certainly has many more surprises in store. Systematic research carried out on the stratigraphic sequences of cave paintings which have been known for a very log time, would alone provide a great contribution to our knowledge of the evolution phases in the longest sequence of cave art known to date. In North Africa, the most ancient works of art currently dated are in Acacus, Libya, and date back to the end of Pleistocene, about 12,000 years ago, according to Fabrizio Mori (F. Mori, Valcamonica Symposium ´68, 1970, page 345). They represent the typical cave art of archaic hunters, in a style widespread also in the Sahara, in the Tassili-n-Agger in Algeria and in the Tehadian Ennedi. In Europe the first graphic signs, dated at about 34,000 years ago. were probably made at the beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic period, which means they are signs of the oldest presence of the Homo Sapiens on the continent. But the wonderful and universally known polychromatic paintings found in the Lascaux and Altamira caves date back to the Magdalenian period which started 16,000 years ago.

In the case of Asia, the oldest works of furniture art known to date are some female statues found on the shores of Lake Baikal in Siberia, dating back to about 34,000 years ago (non-adjusted C14 dating) (Abramova, BCSP, vol. 25-26, 1990, page 81). In India a layer with fragments of decorated ostrich eggs has been found in a small decorated cave dating back to about 25,000 years ago (C 14) (E. Anati, BCSP, vol. 221, 1984, page 13). The report that some cave engravings had been found under archaeological layers more than 200,000 years old is not reliable. In the Near East, the most ancient works known are probably cave engravings with fine traits “in Central Arabia” representing ideograms, animals and anthropomorphic figures, in particular females, which have been found near the Dahatami wells and in sites nearby. The stratigraphy shows three engraving phases by archaic hunters, which probably bear witness to a long iconographic tradition during late Pleistocene up until the beginning of Holocene. Fo the moment, no precise datings are known. (E. Anati, Rock Ari of Central Arabia, vols. 3, 4, 1972,1974). In Australia recent research dates some cave engravings at more that 40,000 years ago. The methods used are actually questionable and further tests are necessary before accepting this information. The data acquired concern later datings. In the Koonalda cave, near Adelaide and on other sites, the oldest cave engravings date back to about 22,000 C 14 years ago (R.G. Bednarik, BCSP, vol. 22, 1985, page 83), but these are apparently non-figurative signs. The oldest confirmed dates for figurative works in Australia come from Laura in the York peninsula. These have been found in a cave covered with archaeological layers, from which C 14 dates of about 17,000 years have been obtained; they are mainly vulva signs and other ideograms of the same kind as those found in France during the Aurignatian and Perigordian eras. In America for the moment the most reliable ancient date we know is about 17,000 years (C 14), in the State of Piaui in Brasil; it refers to the archaeological layer of an engraved cave in which fragments of wall defoliation with painting residues have been found (N. Guidon, L´Anthropologie, vol. 87/2, 1983, page 257). In the same area remains of pieces of okra chalk with signs of use have been found in even more ancient layers.

It is likely that there are even older works to be found both in North America and in the South; however recent reports about findings dating back to a much older age should be subject to further analysis. There has been much speculation about the origin of various sources of artistic production. As research continues and more discoveries are made, we shall probably have to resort to the theory of a single origin. The certain dates currently available seem to indicate a process of art diffusion, but we still do not know how this happened; the theory of a connection between the diffusion of art and of Homo Sapiens, however, seems to be gaining ground. Previous episodes in the evolution of Homo Sapiens have shown that Eastern and austral Africa has played the role of a large genetic laboratory where nature carried out its experiments; this is where a large amount of fossil remains have been found indicating the physical evolution of the species and this is probably where the Sapiens formed, that direct ancestor of ours responsible among other things for artistic creativity. Concerning the origins of Homo Sapiens, the findings scattered in various continents seem to indicate that these beings quickly developed from their place of origin in Africa and conquered the world in a few thousand years. Part of the heritage of the Homo Sapiens is the capacity and the need of expression through a visual language. Maybe there are also analogies between the human need to explore the territory and to explore inside the self, of asking questions and also suggesting answers on the subject of life and existence.

Apart from the physical development, there is also a diffusion of this new human skill. This distribution appears strangely homogeneous throughout the Earth, so much so that it is possible to say that, wherever Homo Sapiens arrived, there are traces of artistic creativity. The latest research shows that the various artistic expressions of the most ancient periods throughout the world are very similar in nature, because the same topic is chosen and the kinds of associations and ideas used undergo limited variations. It therefore seems relevant to talk about a single visual language, a single logic, a universal symbolism and structure of idea association; all of them make up the mental image of the Homo Sapiens whose footprints have been left on the rocky surfaces of all the continents.

4. Kinds of art

A comparative analysis of prehistoric art on a global scale has revealed surprising similarities between what is known about the five continents. On the basis of the reflected economy, four categories of prehistoric art have been identified which refer respectively to: 1. archaic hunters; 2. developed hunters; 3. shepherds and breeders; 4. mixed economy populations. Within these categories prehistoric art, on a global level, shows four kinds of pictograms: 1. anthropomorphic; 2. zoomorphic; 3. topographic and roof-shaped; 4. objects. Apart from the pictograms there are also ideograms and psychograms. The latter are mostly present in the art forms of archaic hunters and too few of them are known as yet to be able to define categories. Ideograms are in turn divided into three groups: 1. anatomic; 2. numerical; 3. conceptual.

These groupings cover virtually all the graphemes that have been found both in caves and in furniture art throughout the world. Prehistoric art shows that the main concerns were about specific questions with an existential and philosophical character, aimed at finding the answer to difficult questions which humans asked themselves concerning their identity and the manifestations of the world around them. The basic relation was that with the animal world from which they drew their means of living. Landscapes are very rare, as are also paintings of plants and personalised portraits. As far as we know, landscapes are virtually absent among the populations of archaic hunters and developed hunters. Among breeders´populations anthropic landscapes can be found, almost always without plants and without a horizon; if the term landscapes can be used they are usually paintings with groups of huts and scenes of daily life or worship, as they appear in the pastoral phases in various places in the Sahara or in central India. The cave engravings of the pastoral age in the Negev and in the Sinai show outlines of figures, cattle enclosures and large traps for gazelle hunting; there are pictures of cattle enclosures in the cave engravings made by bovine breeders on Mount Bego, in the French Maritime Alps. Landscapes with a topographic definition are produced by small groups with complex economics. There is a fresco with the “plan” of the village and the mountain nearby in the Neolithic site of Çatal Hüyük in Anatolia and there are plans of villages, habitations and fields in the cave art of the populations with complex economies of the Valcamonica.

As for the painting of plants, trees, flowers, fruits and leaves they are almost totally absent from the majority of prehistoric art; when these subjects are represented, they are indicated by specific characteristics. For example in Tanzania, a sequence which lasted thousands of years has been found: all the plant paintings we know are concentrated in one single phase dating back to the end of Pleistocene or the beginning of Holocene (between 12,000 and 8,000 years ago). The available data suggest that it is represented from the perspective of gatherers, not of hunters, even though it was painted during the period defined as that of “Archaic Hunters”. This population was mainly vegetarian and made large use of drugs (BCSP, vol. 23). These exceptions, rare as they may be, exist and they are extremely interesting and relevant. In each of the four categories mentioned there are elements called paradigms. This means recurring models, significant elements that appear throughout the whole category and all over the world. There are also preferences concerning the surface to be decorated – caves, shelters, open-air rocky surfaces. Inside the cave itself, or outside it, there can be a preference for horizontal, sloping, vertical or towards ceiling or roof. In each category a definite choice seems to have been made about the surface onto which the paintings or engravings should be made and this is so repetitive that in all four cases it is possible to identify the favourite choices of shape and colour of the surfaces. A preliminary analysis shows that a very high percentage, up to 85% of all the paintings and engravings, meets these criteria. But there are always exceptions to the rule and the exceptions require an explanation. It appears in any case that there is a conceptual link between the work of art an the support chosen for it. In many cases definite choices seem to have been made concerning the execution technique, both for painting and for engraving, as well as in hack-hammer graffiti and in the various smoothing methods. There are recurring elements, but in our view they do not seem to reflect factors of acculturation or of diffusion. In some cases the kind of execution seems simply to be the result of a certain technological level or of a certain way of thinking; one could suppose that, even if the various populations did not communicate the respective techniques to one another, they reached similar conclusions no matter how far away an distant the places they lived in might be. This parallelism in their development can not always have been brought about by external factors. Even long after the primary expansion of the Homo Sapiens, there are probably common matrices which produced similar “resonance” even thousands of years later. The study of these paradigms is fascinating because it brings us back to universal characteristics of our unconscious memory. The themes, then, are extremely limited and repetitive. Among the archaic hunters and the developed hunters, in Europe, Asia, Africa, America and Australia the same range of figures can be found. The relative proportions of the four kinds of pictogram vary, but on the whole the associations seem to follow much the same associative syntax.

In the mentality of these populations there are aspects of the environment, economy and social life that simply seem to be beyond the concerns and interests expressed by their figurative range. The artists, be they hunters or members of other groups, made definite choices about the subject they represented. In the groups belonging to a mixed economy society, regional or local topics are found more frequently because they allow to define geographically limited characteristics. Apart from the choice of the surface, the execution techniques, the themes and typology, size also plays an essential role in order to identify recurring characteristics. In some places there is a preference for certain dimensions. For example, the large paintings of animals in real-life size or taller than 1.5 or 2 metres can be found almost exclusively in hunters´tribes and only in some groups of shepherds, always in areas which are deserts today, especially in Arabia and in the Sahara area. In the cave art of peoples with mixed economies these images are very rare and in some areas they are totally absent. On the other hand there are phases in the development of archaic hunters and developed hunters when small animal figures and even miniatures are found. Another strange phenomenon has been observed in this respect: in the groups where animal figures are large, representations of humans are virtually absent, while in those populations where animal figures are smaller, the percentage of anthropomorphic figures is remarkably higher.

This recurring phenomenon has not been explained yet. In every group there are favourite and secondary subjects; this means there is a sort of primary choice which is essential, inside which a further choice has been made. Alongside the dominant topics there are minor subjects and there are also repetitive elements, ideograms or other graphemes which always accompany the dominant representations. It is probably an oversimplification to say, as many have done, that in European Palaeolithic art animal figures are dominant; by the same token the statement that animal are the dominant figures in archaic hunters´tribes throughout the world means approximating the question. Contrary to common opinion, though, there are few isolated animal figures and they are almost always accompanied by ideograms in larger amount than the animal images and by other associated pictograms. The latter are often bigger than the ideograms. The isolated animal was not enough to represent what humans wished to express and it often appears as the main “word”, the subject of sentences consisting of pictograms and ideograms. In all the groups of works by archaic hunters known today, there are constant ways of associating pictograms and ideograms, that is figurative themes and repetitive graphemes where the sign cannot be immediately translated into an image. It is therefore clear enough that the understanding of the messages they contain depends on the comprehension of the association which, in turn, is based on the understanding of the ideograms. André Leroi-Gourhan pointed out that, in large-scale representations of animals during the Palaeolithic period in Europe, two animal species stand out; they are the bison and the horse that are often painted facing or close to each other and are accompanied by various recurring ideograms. Within the favourite theme, that of large-size wild animals, they are in their turn favourite subjects, which are repeated more often than others and this seems to explain something about the way associations are formed.

There can be differences between one area and the other, but on the whole in the cave art of the French-Cantabrian area there are general characteristics whose possible conceptual meaning will be analysed later on. In Tanzania, in the cave art of archaic hunters, the elephant and the giraffe play an associative role which is similar to that of the horse and the bison in Europe; indeed they often appear together and they are by far the most frequently represented animals. In the conceptuality of Tanzanian archaic hunters they probably play the same role that the horse and the bison had in French-Cantabrian conceptuality. This idea paves the way for another paradigm: the presence in various groups of archaic hunters of dominating animal species having a dialectic relation with each other. The same model occurs in at least two regions, Western Europe and Tanzania, between which no direct relations seem to have existed at the time the phenomenon took place. If we want to move from basic considerations about the phenomenon to the discovery of its meaning, it is necessary to have data concerning the remaining context, in particular the associations with the ideograms, as well as systematic tests on the possible meanings of the ideograms themselves. All this indicates the presence of paradigms; a detailed analysis might allow us to reach even further than we now imagine. The development of a systematic analysis to define the associations, composition and scenes, that is the kind of relations between one figure and the other in the same context, which represent the visual counterpart to the conceptual associative dynamic, seems particularly relevant. The first aim here is that of identifying models and constants, in order to define the terms of a pheonomenology. It has been noticed, for example, that in groups of developed hunters it is common to represent scenes, be they scenes of hunting, daily activities, worship or others; their range is rather limited. In groups of archaic hunters no scenes describing proper episodes are represented, neither during the European Palaeolithic period or in other collections of cave art (or, if there are any, they have not yet been interpreted as such).

There appear associations and compositions with a symbolic content, but apart from very rare exceptions no descriptive or narrative scenes have been found, which might lead to essential psychological elements. There are also similar types of associations. In archaic hunters the spatial collocation of an animal within the framework of the other associated figures does not reflect naturalistic reality as our imagination today tends to see it; animal figures are placed on the wall in a repetitive way, on the basis of typologies which certainly had a meaning as a whole but do not reflect the kind of composition and the kind of vision common to our contemporary culture. It appears, for example, that in the art of archaic hunters the idea of “base” or treading ground was not very common. Apart from some rare exceptions, large animals are painted or engraved on the walls of caves as if they were levitating or floating in the air. The same happens in Europe as in Tanzania, Australia and elsewhere. People have often asked themselves whether these figures represented the animals proper or their “spirits”, or if they had deeper meanings which we cannot grasp. The association between animals and ideograms is repeated with specific analogies by all archaic hunters. The animal figure is the subject, while the ideograms, the ones that Henri Breuil and André Leroi-Gourhan called “symbols” are the reasoning around it. In populations of developed hunters, instead, scenic elements which indicate a completely different mentality can be found; according to our way of thinking the associations of developed hunters are more narrative, realistic and less “abstract”. Sometimes the transition between the two forms is unforeseeable and maybe at a certain moment the usual habits are abandoned to begin something new; in other instances there seems to be a gradual evolution and it is possible to indicate the transition phases.

During these processes, changes in the cognitive mechanism begin to emerge. A thematic analysis reveals the presence of groups of figures, signs and graphemes which represent what one might call the “vocabulary” of art and appear like words inside a sentence; but isolated signs are extremely rare, as isolated words are rare in speech. In art there are groups which reflect the association systems and represent the syntax; they are the “sentences” consisting of the grouping or sequence of graphemes. And this could be the key for the interpretation of prehistoric art, that is an ideography with universal characteristics, or anyway a series of constant associations which come before ethnic or linguistic borders. It seems possible therefore to postulate the existence of archetypal models of logic and this opens up interesting perspectives for the understanding of the human spirit. This is essentially the way to decode signs, not only of prehistoric art but, through the latter, of the basic elements of cognitive dynamics in our species. If the isolated figures are analysed without seeing them in context, the result is a miscellaneous listing where the figure loses much of its meaning because it is separated from the rest.

The truth is that these iconographic elements later undergo an exegesis, with subsequent interpretations not based on the whole but rather on some details, which may be striking but are taken out of context and consequently lead to incomplete interpretations. It is as if, in our language, we insisted on reading each word separately, thus refusing to see that there are sentences and that the words, apart from making grammatical sense, are joined together to construct clauses and sentences on the basis of syntactical logic. Composite associations and cognitive accumulations that have formed over time often appear as well. Sometimes the process looks very complicated. On the wall of a cave, for example, one sees that at the beginning there were only three figures, two animals one in front of the other and an ideogram near them; a few generations later another figure was added and much later, maybe after 2,000 years, other four signs were added. The panel shows us the end result where all these associations appear as part of a whole. It is necessary to identify the primary association, verify the repetitive elements, then compare the analogies and verify whether they are the result of casual or intentional overlapping. In many cases there are some accumulations of signs which have constant features and are undoubtedly intentional, even though they may have been executed in different periods; others are not or we are simply not able to understand their meaning. It is therefore necessary to consider the accumulation of signs and figures onto the same surface. In many cases the graphemes made by humans simply complete the natural shapes and colours which already existed on the background; by means of a similar cognitive process those who have added signs above or near the existing ones might sometimes have done it for similar purposes. It has often been noticed that these figures express a real language of their own because there are widespread repetitive elements which must have been readable in all the places they were made.

Beyond the specific local characteristics found in Tanzania, in the decorated Palaeolithic caves in France or Spain and in the art of hunters in Australia or Patagonia, traces of this language which has its roots in the prototypes can be discovered. Among these archetypal ideograms there are some very simple ones, some of which are universally widespread in all ages: the circle with a dot in the middle, the cross, the little stick, the line and dot, the “V” sign, the arrow, the roof-shape, the triangle, the square, the phallic and vulva signs, the five fingers, the series of parallel lines or of dots, the pair of circles. This primary categorisation already contains enough elements to make up an “alphabet”. Many signs are the same ones which, after having been used for thousand of years as ideograms in cave art, became part of the first ideographic writings, but which were also introduced as religious, philosophical or ideological concepts in various parts of the world. The principles of a new methodology for comparative studies and for a wide contextual analysis of prehistoric art begin to emerge. It is now essential to collocate the fragmentary information available inside a system and to check to what extent the latter is applicable by verifying the presence of repetitive elements on a universal scale and which of these factors reflect contingent or local situations which are relevant only to the individual area. It has already been noted that local elements become increasingly frequent as life get more complicated, especially in groups with diversified or complex economies.

In the art of hunters universal paradigms prevail, obviously with variations and elements which still have to be understood. During prehistoric periods in Europe there are certainly no pictures of lamas and in Argentine no horses are represented, but on a universal scale animals are depicted on the basis of general criteria and not regarded as a species, given that animal species vary from one area to the other. This shows us that there are universal cultural horizons on a global scale. Evidence of this is provided by the ideograms which repeat themselves because they are the same all over the world. For example, the print of the palm, both negative and positive, or the vulva and phallic symbols, the signs of crosses, sticks and trees which we find in European Palaeolithic art can be found in Tanzania as well as in America or Australia, within similar associations or contexts. These phenomena cannot be regarded as the manifestation of direct contact, but they presumably derive from a common cultural matrix. The art of archaic hunters, then, appears to have universal features; the art of developed hunters has much more frequent local characteristics even though it maintains paradigms found worldwide. The real Babel Tower appears at the end of the hunting and gathering age. After this watershed, art, like many other aspects of culture, becomes increasingly provincial and is affected by contingent situations. The sequences of cave art found nearer to our modern culture thus become more understandable, while those found in other regions of the world appear increasingly exotic. There still are, however, countless common denominators, the first and most apparent of which being the need itself to produce stone art and furniture, the similar features, choice of subjects and kinds of associations. To these basic elements, which originated and developed already during the age of hunter clans, the fashions, styles, decorations and characteristics of the various tribes are added in more recent times. The visual language of prehistoric art can probably be defined as an elementary language, so simple that it came to be used by groups of hunters all over the world tens of thousands of years back.

It is frustrating for us, with our twentieth century technology, not to be able to understand it as clearly as our distant ancestors, who used it every day, must have been able to do. It is possible to postulate that the universal primitive language is the same universal language we have inside us today and that, once we have found the key to it, it should be possible to reproduce it consciously. Indeed, we use it every day, although we are not fully aware of it; it contains the basic characteristics of logic and of the associative system, that are essential factors in the mechanisms of intuition, symbolisation, conceptuality and rituals of the Homo Sapiens. The conscious recovery of this language would allow us to understand each other beyond linguistic barriers because it is based on a primary logic, which comes before linguistic divisions and specialisation. Theoretically this element should be contained in all languages and easily understandable by all of them. This would immediately lead us back to an understanding of the basic mechanisms of thought and logic as well as to the functioning of the basic associative mechanisms shared by all the peoples of the Earth.

5. Rituals and beliefs

The works of the first artists help us reconstruct the intellectual roots of our species and even structural remains testify to the need for socialisation of our “Sapiens” ancestors: in this way it is possible to rediscover their dwellings, meeting places, habits and daily needs. The sites themselves, chosen by humans, where the artworks were executed – caves, shelters or rocky dens – often show a conceptual topography in which the place where the artworks are is separated from the surrounding areas, but at the same time connected with them. In dark caves as in open-air stone art sites, the access to the engraved area has a function of transition and passage between two different “worlds”. Still today human groups which produce stone art, such as the Nyau of Malawi in Africa or the aboriginals of the Arnhem Land in Australia, consider the engraved area as ceremonial and access to it is limited. Sometimes only the chosen few can enter them, in other cases access is granted only to members of one sex or only on certain occasions. The stone art sites are often defined as “natural sanctuaries” unlike real sanctuaries (or artefacts) where at least parts of the shapes and structures are the intentional product of human work. The latter, made by the Homo Sapiens more than 12,000 years ago, are extremely rare today as far as we know. The oldest “sanctuary” known to date was discovered on a mountain in the Israeli Negev desert north of the Sinai peninsula and, judging by the chert tools found there, it probably dates back to more than 35,000 years ago. It is located in Har Karkom, a small half-hidden valley on the verge of a precipice and is known with the acronym HK/86B; it is surrounded by various settlements of the same age and overlooking the mountain, facing a wide view over valleys and hills up to the mountain chains, about 60 km to the East.

Har Karkom, a very important sacred mountain during the Bronze Age which became a large worship place, is located along one of the main trails which for times immemorial have linked Africa to Asia and the rest of the world (E. Anati, Har Karkom in the Light of New Discoveries, 1993). It also contains sources of excellent quality chert. This essential raw material durin. the Palaeolithic Age was extracted there even earlier and the excellent quality of the chert was probably one of the main reasons why humans chose this particular spot. East of the sanctuary there is the precipice. From the borders of the sanctuary it is possible to see the hunting territory, the vast prairie below; on the other side the two peaks stand out, pointing at the sky like two breasts. Once you get there you see that one of thern has, on the top, a small cave, while the other has a markedly phallic shape. It looks as if the landscape surrounding the site contained the male and female principles, as well as that of the complementarity between Earth and Sky, mountain and plain, dwelling and hunting area. The impression is that the landscape itself, with its shapes and topography, determined the location of the sanctuary. About forty chert nodules, some of which are more than 1 metre tall, coming from three different quarries in an area of about 3 km, have natural shapes reminding of the bust of humans, mostly female, and animals. Once there, many people get the impression that it releases a powerful energy, the dark monoliths concentrated in a small valley on the verge of a precipice and the surrounding lunar landscape create a breathtaking landscape architecture. Some of these natural statues weigh several hundred kilos; a large effort must have been necessary to carry them there. They have been grouped in the central area and some of them have been shaped by men. On a surface area of about 400 square metres, apart from the numerous worked cherts, about 220 chert pebbles with anthropomorphic and zoomorphic shapes with occasional touches have been found; their size ranges between 35 and 5 cm and they weigh up to 20 kg. There are also glyptoliths and lines of pebbles which form drawings on the fossil soil.

The function of this site is not completely clear. It is not a dwelling site, nor does it seem to have played an economic role. It was definitely a meeting place with nature and probably also an area of meditation on the alchemy of nature. This is probably the place where humans tried to understand the meaning of natural shapes, from the pebbles that were collected here and from the surrounding view. This sanctuary has three main characteristics. It is an excellent observation point from which it is possible to control the hunting area below as if it were a meeting point with nature with its mountain tops on one side and vast plains on the other; it also shows a particular interest for the natural shape of the stones and indicates that humans used to collect and organise stones having natural anthropomorphic and zoomorphic shapes. The association between these two shapes, human and animal, which captured the interest of Palaeolithic men, will be an essential element in the art and conceptuality of the Homo Sapiens for the following 25,000 years.

It can also be found in funereal figures in Siberia, in open-air rock art and in the sanctuary-caves, as well as in the stone art of the hunters of all the continents inhabited by humans. Around the sanctuary there are various dwelling sites with hut pavings which are still clearly visible with remains of fireplaces, areas for chert cutting and numerous stone tools. Another Palaeolithic sanctuary, 20,000 years younger than the one in Har Karkom has been found in the El-Juyo cave, in the Cantabrian area of Spain. Researchers L. Freeman and R. Klein (1983) describe what they define as a temple dating back to fourteen thousand years ago. Inside it they found a room with a pile of stones, which they called “altar”, and a stone with two facets: anthropomorphic on one side and zoomorphic on the other. The association between humans and beasts appears once again; this is a recurring element in Palaeolithic art where, apart from the associations mentioned above, there are also images of anthropo-zoomorphic beings. The room was presumably a meeting place in which the pile with the anthropo-zoomorphic stone must have played an essential role. The symbiosis between humans and animals was a common syntactic formula and maybe it evoked a story of real life, an original myth or a strong conceptual reference. Like the sanctuary of Har Karkom, this also appears to have been a meeting or reunion place, with an icon provided by a stone with a natural shape which was collected by men and put in a special position. In this specific case, the stone was placed on top of a heap, while in Har Karkom the larger orthostats were placed vertically. Other Palaeolithic sites have been interpreted as sanctuaries, but their fragmentary preservation state raises doubts about their possible identification. At Gonnersdorf, in the Rhine Valley in Germany, G. Bosinsky (1970) found a paleosoil in which holes have been escavated.

The latter contained partly broken tablets with engravings of female and animal silhouettes, in an order which seems to suggest a ritualistic behaviour towards these images. Here again there had been an interplay between animal and human figures. The icons in this case were not permanently exhibited, but had been buried inside the holes presumably during a celebration. In various caves, some of which contain rock art, archaeological layers with tablets and anthropomorphic figures have been found, but no structure of considerable size could be connected to the figures themselves. What happened inside these sanctuaries which appear as collections of artistic manufacts? This question has been asked very often but no satisfactory answers have been given yet. We can only guess, by comparing the similar sanctuaries built by contemporary tribal populations, that they were places of initiation, meditation, transmission of traditions and myths. The celebrations, in ethnologic contexts, are linked with these functions. In the case of the HK/86B sanctuary of Har Karkom in particular, a lot of energy must have been devoted to the installation of the works, monoliths, glyptoliths, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic pebbles. What was the drive and the motivation behind this behaviour? Was it planned beforehand? Was there a coordination, were there priests involved, and special events during which these celebrations took place? All of these questions still go unanswered and remain on a theoretical level, but something can be said, however. In Har Karkom and in the other sanctuaries, some main areas of concern seem to emerge: the exploration and understanding of nature, of the meaning of natural shapes, of human-animal and human-environment relations. In the religion and philosophy of Upper Palaeolithic men a dualistic vision of the universe appears, which is revealed in these sanctuaries and also becomes apparent in many other manifestations of artistic creativity. Some aspects of this conceptuality in Palaeolithic art had already been revealed through research carried out by André Leroi-Gourhan and Annette Laming Emperaire more than 25 years ago (A. Laming Emperaire, Art rupestre Paléolithique, 1962; A. Leroi-Gourhan, Préhistoire Art Occidental, 1965). It has been suggested that Palaeolithic artists gave masculine and feminine connotations to the various animals, objects and symbols they represented; today the phenomena observed seem to indicate not so much a sexual definition but rather a dualistic conception.

6. Symbolism and intellect

In the world depicted by the fossil Homo Sapiens it seems that all existing elements had their counterpart, that everything in the same way expressed today by a spouse when talking about the other “half”. The female half needed the other male half to function biologically and to be itself, and vice versa. Man and woman, the human and animal world, earth and sky, light and darkness, night and day, the dark cave and the outside world: everything was divided in two and completeness resulted from the union of the two complementary sides. The question is how this philosophy developed; it is an extremely complex question and we shall attempt to simplify it, even though this involves the risk of providing partial and inevitably schematic explanations. Many of the archaeological findings, which apart from the artworks include burial and worship places, remains of dwellings and camps and numerous tools for daily use, seem to indicate that ever since humans started to develop their capacity for abstraction, synthesis and complex association, their two main concerns have been with life and death. An oriental proverb goes: “Death is the fulfilment of life”; without life there is no death and without death there is no life.

The death of a member of the species is a traumatic experience also for many animals; the awareness of one´s mortality came later and is still refused today by some. The cult of the dead as we have seen, appears to have been an invention of Neanderthal men, who lived between 100,000 and 35,000 years ago and created the Musterian material culture. It was then conceived in a much more elaborate way by the Homo Sapiens. In Europe, up to the beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic period about 35,000 years ago, the cult of the dead was often a way of celebrating life in the first place. Painting (spreading) the dead with okra paint, giving them the colour of blood or supplying them with food, are acts which express life rather than death. We discover that, in the primitive conceptuality of humans, life and death were seen as a complementary couple. This is also shown by the vulva images (symbols of life) on the body of figures representing animal preys (that is animals which were killed and used as food) in Tito Bustillo and other caves in the French-Cantabrian area (A. Beltran, BCSP, vol. 24, 1988). The dualistic indivisibility of life and death emerges here. Survival was ensured mainly by hunting, this is why an existential relationship started between humans and animals. For humans life had more or less the same meaning that the “soul” has in Western conceptuality today; animal life nourished human life. Today we are pleased to know how many proteins we eat, or, more simply, by feeling “full up”.

Then, as today, humans felt satisfied after they had eaten. What is considered a physical satisfaction by people today, must have provided our ancestors with the sensation of having acquired the strength of the animal whose meat they had eaten. The meal was the means through which the spiritual symbiosis which led to completeness was fulfilled and became a reality with the integration of the spirit of the animal inside the body of humans. Some populations of hunters maintain these beliefs, which are improperly called “animistic” still today (C.P. Mountford, Art, Myth and Symbolism, 1956). The frequent cases of representations of humans disguised as animals or of anthropo-zoomorphic hybrid figures in the art of archaic hunters dramatically demonstrates this search for a symbiosis. Hunters´ populations had developed a dual relation between humans and animals: the hunted animal was identified with survival, the live animal was a symbol of vitality; here the concept of a life-death relation appears again. Through the physical assimilation of the animal´s meat, its strength, vitality and real or alleged skills were acquired as well. The hunters felt revitalised, much more than in a physical sense by this customary act of eating, which acquired what we today would call a “mystic” significance. The meal was an act of communion, which was practised almost daily, between the animal and the human world or, in a more generic sense, between humans and the surrounding world, those who take and those who give. In some contemporary religions there are residues of similar concepts, especially in the ritual meals, real or symbolic, which are taken. Hunting was planned and rational. There had to be very strict rules on the subject, maybe similar to those found today among the Lapps, Eskimos, Boscimans, Sandawe, Hazda, Aranda and other populations of hunters in the five continents. Some of these rules, with minor variations, are still widespread all over the world in these populations. The aim of these norms is not to jeopardise the continuity of the hunted species which constituted the reserve, safety and therefore the heritage of the territory and of the clan. Females and young animals were never killed.

Those animals were selected which had already completed their life cycle and whose extinction did not upset the further development of the animal world. This shows another aspect of the dual attitude of humans towards animals; the latter were in some cases regarded as preys to be killed, other times to be left untouched in order to safeguard the necessary balance that would ensure the preservation of the resources. The application of the dualistic concept to the human-animal relation continues in totemic visions of nature still common among contemporary tribal populations. Another essential element for survival was the relation between man and woman which ensured the fulfilment of natural biological needs, as well as the preservation of the species. The sexual act of communion also had a revitalising and strengthening function which contributed to the stability of the social structure as well as to the sense of harmony and comfort. We still do not know to what extent these peoples were aware of paternity; there are still tribes where the relation between sex and pregnancy is not understood. The biological need of copulating, however, is certainly not a human invention and the dualistic man-woman perception remains an essential conceptual factor up until the present day. In the light of these clear examples of complementary couples as factors of completeness and unity, it is easy to understand how the concept of dualism or bipolarism developed and extended to other aspects of the beliefs and visions of the universe. According to this view, each of the two poles needed the other to fulfil itself, as in the case of electric charges with opposite signs which, by touching each other, produce sparks. A very similar conceptuality still existed among some Australian tribes when Charles Mountford studied them in the 1940s. Indeed, Palaeolithic art seems to reflect this dualism in a surprisingly complex fashion. Its representations include animals with a “male” and a “female” meaning. In the decorated caves of France and Spain, for example, images of horses and bisons are associated. According to the interpretation given by A. Leroi-Gourhan, the horse in front of the bison is an expression of this dualistic concept. For the hunter clans of the prairie or of the savannah, the agile, slender and fast horse is a male symbol, while the plump, slow and pensive bison represents femininity. We have already seen how, in Tanzania, similar roles are played by the giraffe and by the elephant.

The animals change, but the ideas remain the same. In the Palaeolithic sanctuary of Har Karkom the dualistic meaning of the landscape, the symbolism of natural shapes and the dualistic relations between humans and environment, humans and animals, earth and sky all emerge very powerfully. In the cosmogonic vision which was maintained by philosophies of later ages, earth (feminine) and sky (masculine) were regarded as a pair formed by two halves, one male and one female. The same can be applied to sea (masculine) and land (feminine), sun (masculine) and moon (feminine). Many elements of Palaeolithic conceptuality are not only present in some contemporary populations of hunters, but also latent in our subconscious; we rediscover them once they emerge. It should also be pointed out that the masculine or feminine gender attributed to some elements which would be considered neutral by contemporary logic standards, has been kept in some modem languages, such as Italian and French, and is probably a residue of the “animistic” conception according to which they were considered. The hunting men of the Palaeolithic period had probably created an image of the universe which was affected by their functional relation with the animal world; the wonderful art of the sanctuary-caves exalts this aspects of conceptuality and spirituality. The meeting of bison and horse on cave paintings, as in the prairie environment, hid the messages of a deep reality which symbolised the universe. The repetitive system of pictograms, ideograms and psychograms which humans used in their conceptual applications uses detail by giving it a symbolic value for what is general, while contingent aspects are transformed into a symbol of universality. In this way, the horse and the bison had meanings which went much beyond the purely figurative value we attribute to them today; their association in cave art added further meanings to the whole and the ideograms accompanying them each contained their own messages. All these graphic expressions derive from the details gathered by observing the world. Humans used daily reality to enrich their intelligence, fighting with the enormous animals they depicted, mammoths, bisons, horses, bulls, rhinoceros, was exciting. The cosmological concept was associated with a mythology full of imagination and ingeniousness which inspired sublime works of art. The latter represent the effect and today archaeologists look into their causes.

Now the question emerges of the relation between the finding, its study and the cultural acquisition of its meaning. It is not enough for a finding to cause a response of aesthetic appreciation for it to be accepted as part of the culture; people today, as they did yesterday, require contents and when faced with a message they might accept it or reject it. On the other hand, if there is no message there is nothing to understand. The picture of a bison or mammoth painted on the wall of a cave can look beautiful or ugly, but it is only by discovering its meaning that it becomes a cultural artefact. Over the past few years archaeology has made giant leaps towards the understanding of contents and we are probably now facing a turning point, from where research might lead us to the discovery of the universal processes of the human brain. The discovery of meaning raises several questions; indeed the dualistic concept of hunters´ populations is still very much part of our way of thinking, it belongs to our “logic” so that, thousands of years later, we can still define as “truth” the principles expressed by Palaeolithic conceptuality. For us it appears “obvious” that death should be the completion of life, that man complements woman and vice versa and that night should follow day, there is no question of believing these concepts or refusing them because they reflect our natural way of thinking. This is true for Buddhists as well as for Christians and it continues to be a universal element of human conceptuality.

What is expressed by primitive visual language is a conceptual world which reflects a certain forma mentis, a frame of mind. It contains intellectual speculations, beliefs, myths; it allows to discover traditions and rites which have characterised human existence for thousands of years. The preservation of these associations over hundreds of generations leads to think that there was an absolute and complete faith in this cosmological vision, a faith which sustained humanity from 40,000 to about 10,000 years ago. An ideology based on the epic celebration of dualism, expressed by the daily confrontation between humans and animals which became the basis of analogies for other comparisons: between man and woman, night and day, light and darkness, earth and sky, life and death, between the reality of being awake and dreaming. This intellectual-religious world is being brought back to the level of consciousness by the comparative study of similar art forms and concepts present in many hunters´ populations which still inhabit the remotest corners of the earth. It reveals to us the wonderful magic of human intelligence, an essential feature of our species ever since its origins.

7. Conclusions

At the end of the Palaeolithic period, an unexpected phenomenon took place in the Euro-Asiatic regions under the form of a sudden climatic change. Its cause is not known yet, but various hypotheses have been made about it. This environmental upheaval, called “universal flood” by many mythologies, brought about some radical transformations. As the glaciers melted, the large plains were invaded by water, millions of tons of ice from the mountains and the widest areas of the Arctic region started to melt and turned the plains into lakes and marshes; the sea level rose by about 120 metres so that immense expansions of land and probably thousands of human groups went under. The Persian Gulf, for example, was an enclosed sea much smaller than it is now; the rising in the sea level flooded the plains where the rivers Tigris and Euphrates flowed further south for many miles. The northern half of the Adriatic sea was a wide plain, an ideal habitat for hunter clans and their preys; the Maltese archipelago was an extension of Sicily and the latter was a peninsula.

The shores of the Mediterranean went back more than 100 kilometres in some points and the sea covered the prairies. Australia was joined with New Zealand and the Bearing Straits was accessible. Changes in the ecosystem took place almost everywhere: most of Canada, once free of ice, could be inhabited, the Sahara received abundant rain and for several thousand years it became a sort of paradise where populations of hunters and gatherers produced wonderful artworks. In Europe, which had a mild climate, animals were totally integrated with their environment, they survived on an animal and vegetable diet from the tundra and undergrowth, built up a food chain and adapted to the cold dry climate. After the above mentioned climate changes the tundra disappeared and some animals, like the mammoth that were too integrated to be able to chan e their habits, became extinct. On the other hand, others, like the deer and the chamois, abandoned the plains and easily adapted to the mountain environment so that they have survived up to the present day. Those human groups which were not exterminated by this “universal flood” had to change their diet in order to survive, and started to hunt small animals, such as hares, aquatic animals and wild ducks. This brought about radical changes in human life, social structures and intellectual concepts. First of all, if you feed on mammoth meat, it is not economical to live in small family groups because you go hunting in large groups which are able to carry hundreds of kilos of meat back to the camp and many people share the meat. If your diet consists of ducks or hares, the hunting system changes, as the economy and the size of the group itself are transformed. Still today people use different associations when they think about the mammoth (large industry) and about a rabbit (the Playboy club). Even in contemporary hunter populations there are different social and behavioural models for hunters of large animals (or large-scale fauna) and hunters of small-scale animals. When the animals changed, after the climatic mutations at the end of the Pleistocene, human groups adapted to the new situation. Archeological diggings show different characteristics if compared to the previous dwellings of the Palaeolithic and the following ones of the Mesolithic age. During the Mesolithic period in Europe, remains of human dwellings inside small caves are usually found, with a small fireplace, the remains of shellfish and other small and medium-size animals.

The Palaeolithic camp, on the other hand, is often characterised by the presence of large fireplaces and many bones of large animals. A series of observations made about these findings reveals that, at the end of the Palaeolithic period in Europe, in some cases a transformation in the social structure took place; the clan was divided into family groups which went to inhabit areas distant one from the other because each one needed its own hunting territory. Previously a substantial group of adults hunted large animals, whose meat was then carried to the camp and shared; thirty Mesolithic hunters, on the other hand, did not go hunting thirty rabbits in the same area: every group took care of itself. It seems that the particular family structure of our European society originated during the Mesolithic period and brought with it a new concept of social aggregation. Another aspect of the traumatic effect of the changes in climate is more ideological. The absolute truth summed up by the dualistic concept, the faith in that philosophy which had survived for thirty thousand years and seemed eternal and unshakeable, suddenly did not seem to make sense any longer because its main element, the epic of the fight between humans and large animals, failed. In this way a faith, which had survived for a period fifteen times longer that the time which separates us from the beginning of our era, suddenly collapsed. The sanctuary caves of the French-Cantabrian area with their wonderful paintings were abandoned; even though they remained the same, with their own characteristics, they no longer had a reason to be preserved. It is not by chance that we rediscover and begin to appreciate them in our age today, after 10,000 years of oblivion. This also gives some hints about our own era. As a consequence of external environmental factors, the absolute truth, the universal religion, suddenly broke down and humans found themselves caught up in a spiritual void, It took them several thousand years to build back an ideology of their own, after undergoing a period of disappointing intellectual expressivity during the Mesolithic period. There are rare and schematic expressions also in the area of visual language, apart from the regions where humans maintained a decadent Palaeolithic tradition, also known as Epipaleolithic, presumably with remains of an archaic religion which did not make much sense in the new situation. In Valcamonica the Protocamune period, with large-scale animal figures (the elks found in Luine) is an Epipaleolithic expression, that is a late and decadent Palaeolithic manifestation of a marginal group which, almost driven by inertia, continued the Palaeolithic tradition during the Mesolithic period in a disorganised way, without the wealth of ideographic associations and the profound philosophical contents which had characterised cave art (E. Anati, The Camunes, 1982). Only during the eighth and seventh millennium B.C., following great technological developments, the invention of new tools, the first experiences in working the land and breeding animals, did humans in Europe and the Near East enter a new “renaissance” stage which enabled them to create a new ideology and to start their intellectual reconstruction. From the Neolithic period onwards, it is possible to follow the conceptual evolution of the European and Middle Eastern world which led to the present day. The basic formulas have been largely undermined by more complex overlapping; sometimes the ability to synthesise has not been able to handle the new conceptual problems and it is during these times that a taste for the ephemeral emerges. The story of the other continents is rather different. In those happy parts of the planet such as Australia, as well as most of Africa and South America, where living conditions and natural resources have not undergone radical modifications, there have been no grounds for substantial changes in lifestyle. In other areas, including large parts of continental Asia and the Middle East, lush prairies became deserts and humans left them to move somewhere else, thus leaving wide areas in the dry regions as a shelter for weaker populations and outcast groups, doomed to lead a dire life.

Strangely enough, it is in these dry areas inhabited by outcast populations that we find the largest concentration of artistic creativity, vast sites of stone art with hundreds of thousands of figures. Twelve thousand years ago the whole of humanity survived by hunting and gathering, the economy and the social structure started to diversify with the origin and development of pastoral and agricultural populations with a complex economy. Art reflects these changes and shows us the variety of forms and concepts which have been constantly growing over the centuries. This evolution provides us with a series of data which allows us to reflect on the anatomy of the human adventure. History never repeats itself in the same way, but the past is inside us; experiences, achievements and even failures enrich our conceptual wealth. The resulting discoveries are part of the heritage which nothing can take away from us.



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