• April 4, 2006
  • Posted by Marc

Did Teens Create Prehistoric Cave Art?

From Liz comes the following story nicked from Discovery Channel News that suggests that teens created most of the prehistoric cave art. 


Cave Art: Prehistoric Teen Graffiti?
By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

March 31, 2006— Testosterone-fueled boys created most prehistoric cave art, according to a recently published book by one of the world’s leading authorities on cave art.

The theory contradicts the idea that adult, tribal shaman spiritual leaders and healers produced virtually all cave art.

It also explains why many of the images drawn in caves during the Pleistocene, between 10,000 and 35,000 years ago, somewhat mirror today’s artwork and graffiti that are produced by adolescent males.

“Today, boys draw the testosterone subjects of a hot automobile, fighter jet, Jedi armor, sports, direct missile hit, etc.— all of the things they associate with the Adrenalin of success,” said R. Dale Guthrie, author of “The Nature of Paleolithic Art.”

Guthrie, who is a professor emeritus in the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, added, “I think the full larder (of) success of the excitement and danger of killing a giant bison or auroch in the Pleistocene was the equivalent of the testosterone art today.”

He explained to Discovery News that many of the cave art images of animals are rather graphic, showing, for example, speared animals with blood pouring out of their mouths and noses.

Hunting and animals were not the only things on the cave artists’ minds. Guthrie has also noticed that males were drawn sort of like a Ken Barbie doll, with no defined sexual parts save for a simple line designating the penis. Few men were even represented, but the images of women in caves tell a different story.

“Female images dominate and are nude, almost every one full-figured above and below,” said Guthrie. “Unlike the other animals, the sculpted, engraved and painted human females and female parts are sometimes done schematically, distilling and inflating the primary and secondary sex characters.”

Guthrie also determined that several cave art images are incomplete, overlapping, brief and rudimentary, as though people who were still learning how to draw created them.

This type of sketching dominates cave walls, which also display a handful of works that appear to have been drawn by well-practiced artists, who probably were adults.

Perhaps the most convincing piece of evidence for the new theory consists of 200 handprints that were left in the caves next to the art. These prints were produced by individuals who chewed ochre, held up a hand, and then spit the colorful orange-yellow spew all over the hand, leaving a wall imprint.

Guthrie analyzed the handprints and then compared the results with earlier research on male and female hands. The hand lengths, palm widths and the finger widths and lengths mostly match hands that would have belonged to boys aged nine to 17.

Some teen female handprints were identified in the caves, but young male prints were found more often.

Other handprints resulting unintentionally from people leaning against muddy cave walls, as well as footprints, also suggest that young boys were creating the cave art, according to Guthrie.

Paul Martin, professor of quaternary biogeography at the University of Arizona, told Discovery News that he is inclined to agree with the new theory and findings.

“(Guthrie) has an extraordinary knowledge of wild animal ecology globally, and especially in the Northern Hemisphere,” Martin said. “In addition, he brings detailed knowledge of late Pleistocene fossils to his study of cave art. Finally, like many zoologists, especially those with children of their own, he is an astute observer of human behavior.”

Martin added, “If he finds that much cave art reflects teenage or preteen preoccupations, I am prepared to believe him.”