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What The Cave People Knew

By Terrie Hayes

February 25, 2020

They didn't have paper, pens, computers, or any other modern means of publishing, but they still found a way to tell and preserve their stories.


Cave Art from Madura Cave in Bulgaria - 10,000 -8,000 B.C.

Prehistoric storytelling fascinates me.  When I study a cave drawing (like the scene above), I see intricate details of various villagers posed, in motion, dancing possibly, and clothed; weapons wielded and aimed; creatures roaming and being hunted; and a mostly linear expression in both the reduced foreground and enlarged background.  Like archeologists, theorists, and cave art scholars, I ever-wonder about the purpose of this representational drawing and about the meanings of its partial and collective symbolism. 


The "experts" lean toward this being religious or spiritual in nature--and I can see that, too--but, the writer in me also imagines that beyond this being a ceremonial drawing, it can be "read" more like a narrative of connected events.  In other words...a story.

So, in testing my story theory then, I have to see the "artist" as also having a secondary role as "author."  The use of sophisticated pictures and precise geometric symbols for language and art--as seen in this and over 700 other "drawings" in Madura Cave--indicate a "higher order consciousness."  What this means is that these primitive Homo Sapiens were advanced in their thinking as well as in their social bonds, and, therefore, conscious about promoting their society.  They weren't just grunting cave-people.

From this perspective, I'm interpreting that the image is of a community celebrating abundance from a good hunt and probably from a bountiful gathering.  I think the largest, most celebratory figures in the background (and positioned higher up in the drawing) are the tribal elders.  To me, they appear to be dancing and giving thanks to their God, in a rather grand manner, as recent times may not have been so fortuitous.  The dominance of the darkest and largest figure with his hands in the air seems to signify a community LEADER who is extremely pleased with his industrious people and also thankful to their God.  They are being blessed by benevolence and hard work.

With this interpretation, I now have a starting point from which to extract a plausible story.  To help this along, I'm also envisioning that the artist of this remarkable canvas revealed it to the community as both a reminder and reinforcement of the tribe's well-being and spirituality as well as for entertainment after a long day's work.  Dusk past and bellies satisfied from a hearty supper, the artist knew the people would be eager for a pleasant distraction to occupy their contentment.  Sure, she could invite them to stare at her flat drawing, but if she presented a lengthy and dimensional performance about themselves--complete with an engaging beginning, a compelling middle, and an exciting end--she would have more time to make them feel proud about their individual and communal efforts.  

So, what did the cave people know?  They knew that one picture could preserve a memory and then accentuate that memory in story form.  They knew that a good story is one that other people can relate to.  They knew that quick-burn, anecdotal highlights of one day would not be enough to satisfy an appetite for long-term escapism, so they also knew they would have to embellish and imaginatively fill in holes.  They also knew that if they sat still long enough, they would be thoroughly entertained by a story developer in the making.



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