Cave Artists

Font de Gaume


Les Eyzies, Imgp3929

Limestone caves filled with prehistoric paintings abound here, including the famous Lascaux Cave. All but one have been closed to public viewing of the original art to protect it, although some, like Lascaux,  have been beautifully
reproduced. The Font de Gaume lies
about a kilometer outside the village of Les Eyzies, and is one of the last
where you can still see the drawings themselves.   No more than 12 visitors an hour are allowed to enter the caves, which
are constantly monitored for humidity, carbon dioxide and oxygen levels, to we
make an appointment for 2:00 pm.

Lunch is a quick bite at a small café in Les Eyzies, across
the street from overhanging cliffs where homes have been carved out of the
rock. People live in them today, with running water, electricity and curtains at the windows.inside Imgp3928

At two o’clock we make our way to the ticket office to pay
for our tickets, and climb the 400 meters to our rendez-vous with the guide. It is a hot day, but inside  the cave it is
always 13 centigrade
, so we are advised
to bring a wrap. Our group is told not
to touch the walls of the cave so that we don’t leave any bacteria which can
damage the paintings, and to stay close to each other. The cave opening looks big enough, but once
inside, it is very narrow. In some
places we have to turn sideways to avoid brushing against the walls, but in
fact it is not really claustrophobic, as I had feared. The gloom is alleviated by amber lights placed under the grill we walk
on. The floor has been dug out and
lowered to further protect the drawings from hands and breath.

Then we come to the drawings. The first  are of large bison, lots of
them.  The colors are rich and varied,
created by mixing mineral  oxides and charcoal.  We are told by our guide that there are far more bison than we can see, all the way up to the ceiling of the cave,.  These would be difficult to access now, let alone 14,000 years ago. I remember that when homo sapiens sapiens
came into being, we were already us, with just as much brain power (maybe more). The drawings are superb , the bison perfectly
observed, with  everything in the right place, and executed with the simplest of lines. The natural protrusions of the cave walls
have been used to create a sense of depth, a belly here and a haunch
there. Our guide tells us that when
these drawings are viewed by torchlight or candlelight, they seem to move.

There are examples of perspective in these drawings,
a skill which was only rediscovered during the renaissance thousands of years
later.  Power, fertility, and
tenderness. are expressed.   A drawing of reindeer shows
a male licking the forehead of a female who is on her knees, giving birth. There is a stallion rearing with excitement
mounting a serene mare. And everywhere,
bison on the move, or gra zing, or standing.The reindeer herds were the principal  source of food for these people, not bison, yet representations of bison predominate. No one
knows why the drawings were made, sometimes with great difficulty,in caves
where no one ever lived. They were
specifically used for the purpose of the drawings, whatever it was.

The cells of my body remember the people who made these murals,
our ancestors. I know I am one of them, and that they knew things that we have
long forgotten.
  Maybe someday  we will rediscover them, as centuries later artists
stumbled again on perspective in painting.