The Cave Painters
Story by Mohd Salman | Art by Archana Sreenivasan
The Mystery of Cave Paintings
Prehistoric cave paintings are among the most fascinating relics left behind by our ancestors. They belong to a time when the human struggle for survival was far more intense. Unlike tools and weapons, cave art shows that the desire to express how one perceives the world is as old as humanity itself.
One wonders where the impulse to make art took root. Was it the relative safety and warmth of the caves that gave them room to think about matters other than survival? Or would they have painted anyway, because the desire for creative expression is unconditionally woven into the psyche of all human beings?
Animals large and small walk the rock walls of many a cave around the world. Humans congregate on the walls of others. With the march of time, the intricacy and skill involved in cave art has evolved in step with other advancements made by humanity.
Still, the question remains, what were our ancestors thinking when they left these marks of their existence upon the world? Were these paintings an act of worship? Did they signify ritual? Were they drawing the domesticated animals they loved, or celebrating the triumph of a great hunt? These are a few among a long list of questions, with a wealth of beautiful, awe-inspiring cave art to see around the world as we look for answers.
Prehistoric Cave Paintings in India
India has a rich tapestry of cave art from sites all over the country. The most famous site is Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh, whose paintings depicting both animals and human are believed to be over 10,000 years old.
Karnataka is home to diverse sites which show how people adapted their technique to the properties of the rocks where they lived. Odisha’s Gudahandi is remarkable for its enigmatic and beautiful geometric art including grids, circles, spoked wheels and ovals.
Earlier this year, cave paintings were discovered in Mangar Bani, a forest nestled in the Aravalli hills not far from Delhi.
The simple pigments used in prehistoric cave art are very sensitive. While they survived centuries of isolation, crowds of curious tourists in the modern day pose a strong threat to them. Moisture from exhaled air corrodes the ancient pigments and ultimately destroys the paintings. Lascaux faced a similar danger, with an average of 1,500 visitors a day after the Second World War. It has been closed to the public eye since 1963. The original paintings that Robot helped Marcel discover (yes, the characters in our comic are based on a real-life man and his dog) are no longer accessible to the average tourist.
In 1983, Lascaux II, featuring exact replicas of the Great Hall of the Bulls and the Painted Gallery has been available for tourist viewing, about 200 metres from the original site. Lascaux III is a replica of other paintings from the original caves that have been part of travelling exhibitions across the world. Lascaux IV is yet another collection of replica paintings which integrates digital techniques into the display, housed in the International Centre for Cave Art in Montignac, France.
How prehistoric paints were made
If you’ve ever seen a prehistoric cave painting in person, one of the first questions you might ask yourself in awe is how did our ancestors make such beautiful art thousands and thousands of years ago? Where did they find the art supplies, where did the lovely pigments come from?
Find out all about it here.
If you’re feeling inspired, you can also make your own prehistoric-cave-painting style art. Here’s how.