I. Ice Age Art: Basic Issues
The present study presents an interpretation of Upper Palaeolithic cave art that is based on two hypothetical assumptions: in the first place, that many of our current ideas and beliefs actually originated in that distant era, or even long before; and in the second place, that artistic expression is a perennial aspect of human existence, fundamentally the same now as in the remote prehistory. As a corollary of the first thesis, we may scrutinize historical sources (religious texts, myths, rituals, folklore) for authentic fragments of ancient concepts, more intensively than what has been the practice in past studies of cave art. In consequence of the second thesis, we shall approach Palaeolithic art assuming that it is accessible to formal analysis, even though the ancient works appear alien or disorganized to a modern observer. The study of Palaeolithic art challenges us to balance evidence of permanence and continuity against indications of diversity and change.
This chapter illustrates the above approach with select examples of Palaeolithic art works that find ready parallels in imagery of much later cultures, notably, in images that are illuminated by historical sources and belong within known cultural contexts. These examples show the potential loss of insights that would stem from ignoring similarities between very old works and much later works and from rejecting historical evidence as irrelevant to ancient prehistoric art.
Palaeolithic cave art
Ice Age art is the body of images and signs from the Upper Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) found across Europe and northern Asia. It dates as far back as, at the least, 35-40,000 years and ends as late as about 12,000 years ago. The climate of that age was generally much colder than now, though interspersed with periods of more temperate weather, and the recognizable motifs of the art works are mostly animals that broadly reflect the variations in temperature and geography, from mammoths of the cold steppes to red deer of forested valleys. The art forms of that era vary from sparse signs or single animal figures on small bone or stone artifacts to large caves with accumulations of hundreds of images.
The present project is focused on the decorated caves. These are mainly found in western Europe, with a strong concentration in southern France and northern Spain, where there are several hundred decorated caves; minor regions are found in Italy, eastern Europe and Russia. The caves range from “village churches” with just a handful of signs or figures to “cathedrals” with up to a thousand painted and engraved images. Such collections of images promise rich opportunities for the interpreter, who is looking for patterns of repetition that may expose the artists’ intentions. Our focus on the caves does not imply that they reflect another mind-set than the mobile art; we have no reason to doubt that a horse engraved on a bone carried the same connotations as one painted on a cave wall; in fact, a few decorated objects may have as many different images on a small bone or pebble as are found in some of the minor caves. Nevertheless, while decorated objects are not excluded from the study, the decorated caves dominate, partly because they are ideal time capsules that preserve large accumulations of images within the authentic settings of the cave spaces, partly because the caves themselves are potentially significant frameworks, as reflected in numerous ideas about the realm of the netherworld.
An accomplished art form
Upper Palaeolithic cave art is not “primitive.” Though the narrative techniques of that era differ from those of modern arts, the works are not inarticulate nor incapable of showing narrative scenes and rendering intricate thoughts. The discovery of the cave of Chauvet in the 1990s disproved the theory that Upper Palaeolithic cave art started on a simplistic and tentative level. Though Chauvet is among the older decorated caves (about 35,000 years old), it is already far advanced in its application of perspective, complex compositions, dramatic use of cave spaces, figures in motion, and combinations of signs and figures. For a display of technical sophistication at Chauvet, consider the figure of a rhinoceros that is represented as a negative image: engraved in white lines against a wall that was first prepared with black paint; an advanced concept, that is executed with complete confidence (Chapter XI, Fig. 47 e; Clottes 2001, 136). From the earliest to the latest cave sanctuaries, we find a number of recurring practices that define Palaeolithic cave art as a distinct art form. Shared features include the use of the cave space itself, in particular the attention given to cavities (niches, fissures) and to the innermost parts of a cave. The chosen motifs also points to standard practices, notably the preference for certain animal species, the horse not the least. Many caves have dozens of horses, a few have hundreds; relatively few caves are entirely without them. In the main, this does not reflect culinary practices, as the reindeer, rather than the horse, was the stable source of meat.
Statistical analyses of the inventory in a great number of caves have shown that the artists were highly selective with respect to the animal species they wanted to depict, and even more exclusive in choosing which to combine in panels or friezes (Sauvet and Wlodarczyk 1995, and 2000-2001). This confirms the–admittedly, not universally shared–impression, that Ice Age art, in spite of stylistic changes and temporal/regional specialties, reflects an essentially unified intellectual culture, a world view with a stable, essentially religious foundation. There is a certain logic to this conclusion, given the place of Ice Age art within the larger context of Homo sapiens‘ roughly 150,000 year long progression, even when disregarding evidence of visual creativity in the age of Homo erectus, hundreds of thousands of years ago (see, for example, the survey by J.B. Harrod 2014). As plotted on a time line (Fig. 1a), the era of Ice Age art falls quite late in the overall development, much closer in time to the historical cultures of the last 5,000 years than to the elusive childhood of mankind. This suggests–although it can not be proved–that most of the concepts and beliefs held by the Ice Age artists would have originated long before their own era, and that they were perpetuating an already mature intellectual culture. It would be preposterous to assume that people, equipped with active brains like ours, would spend 100,000 years thinking about nothing of consequence for later ages. This argument is the more valid if, as recent (2018) dates indicate, Neanderthals–or crossbreeds–were the first artists in the European caves.
Understanding Ice Age art
Considering the many layers of cultural transformations that separate us from the world of the Upper Palaeolithic, it is not surprising that much in this art strikes us as strange and incomprehensible. Some scholars have even jumped to the conclusion that the imagery of the Ice Age is not “art” in a historical sense, while others remain skeptical about the possibility of interpreting the body of works, even if it is “art” (for the stand “against interpretation” see Ucko and Rosenfeld, 1967; Bahn and Vertut, 1997). We have, however, no compelling reason to believe that this body of thousands of images should forever remain impenetrable. We are not staring at this art like strangers without a clue; we are, after all, not aliens from another planet, but the actual descendants of the artists.
Considering, again, the position of Ice Age art on a time line (Fig. 1b), now zooming in on the approximately 40,000 years since Homo sapiens‘ arrival in Western Europe (ignoring for the present feasible Neanderthal contributions), we realize just how unlikely is the assumption that the 25,000 year long era of the cave artists contributed little, or nothing substantial, to the ideas and beliefs of the last 5,000 years. We must avoid the logical fallacy of assuming, that ideas originated around the time when they first appeared in written texts.
Until recently, the “Neolithic Revolution” (the effect of food production, cities, specialized crafts) was believed to have caused an unbridgeable gap in mankind’s cultural development, but this dogma has lost its former status, as mounting evidence instead suggests a gradual transition from Palaeolithic hunting/gathering to Neolithic herding/farming. For all we know, current populations in Europe are heirs to the material and intellectual achievements of the Ice Age. In short, if something in the old images seems vaguely familiar, that impression may, indeed, be well founded.
Extant readings of Ice Age art
During the last century and a half, scholars have responded to the evidence of Ice Age cave art in stages, going from total ignorance of the phenomenon to denial of its authenticity, then moving to acceptance while denigrating it, classifying it as primitive magic rather than as genuine religion; eventually, the discipline has come to recognize its cultural validity–albeit, in limited respects only. Exeptional achievements in scholarly work of the last half century–briefly reviewed below–fall into the areas of conceptual thinking, mythology, world-view, and time-keeping.
Post-World War II structuralists explored general principles of organization in the cave decorations. André Leroi-Gourhan, notably, explained the frequent associations of horses and bison in terms of a general binary system and grouped all images in either of two categories termed male and female (Leroi-Gourhan 1967). This theory was generally rejected as simplistic, but it remained influential. For example, Leslie G. Freeman later followed a similar line of thinking, recognizing a comprehensive binary scheme in the decoration of Altamira (Freeman and Echegaray 2001). The dualistic concept is basic to the philosophical principle presented below (cf. Chapter X).
As an alternative approach, comparative mythology has contributed to the field by demonstrating the connection between deep cave spaces and the womb of a “Mother Earth.” Louis-René Nougier (1975) demonstrated how the paintings in Rouffignac are concentrated at two points where shaft-like corridors lead downward–first to a second level gallery; then further down to the third tier, the latter being the level where subterranean waters still flow. Claude Barrière (1990) and Michel Lorblanchet (2001) have explored comparable spatial schemes in other caves where the location of distinctly female images (vulvas, etc.) confirms the concept of the “womb” of the earth. This concept is expanded in the present study (cf. Chapters III, and VIII).
The role of trance in Eurasian shamanism sustains speculations about spiritual journeys as a subject of Ice Age art. The concept of a “shamanistic cosmos” (Lewis-Williams 2002) seems particularly pertinent to subterranean sanctuaries, in so far as it divides the world into horizontal tiers stacked one above the other. While this world model may predate evidence of shamanism, the belief in inter-connected cosmic realms is relevant to the decorated caves, as they are situated between the upper world of the sky and the lower world of subterranean waters. The creation myth at the root of this model is discussed below (cf. Chapter IV).
Alexander Marshack initiated the reading of Palaeolithic art as “time-factored,” that is, replete with seasonal indicators in pictures of animals and plants (1991), an approach that remains central to the discipline. Marshack also read numerous artifacts with notational marks as observational, lunar calendars. Though this thesis is not generally accepted, calendrical systems are a feasible point of reference for many abstract signs in cave art (cf. Chapter XI, Addendum).
The recognition, that Upper Palaeolithic people paid close attention to the skies, finds an echo in recent theories of archaeoastronomy in cave art. Several scholars have noticed that a large aurochs bull in the Rotunda of Lascaux bears close resemblance to the historical constellation Taurus. Michael Rappenglück’s dissertation (1999) concerned another figure in Lascaux: the human character in the Shaft, who relates to the celestial North Pole. Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewietz (2000, and 2011) brought the topic a step further when she realized that the rays of the setting sun at summer solstice–and only at this time of the year–would have entered the Rotunda of Lascaux. Moreover, the cave’s first figure, right at the entrance, is the head of a horse with a surrounding aura of yellow ocher (Aujoulat 2004, 67). The coincidence of an actual solar manifestation, a possible solar image, and a zodiacal constellation (a station on the sun’s path), all in the first chamber of the cave, seems significant. Other decorated caves show comparable features, with the sun pointing out images at key moments of the solar year, features that establish astronomy as a significant component of the caves’ decorative schemes (Cf. Chapter XI).
The above approaches–each a valuable contribution in its own way–share one major problem, as they fail to explain why the artists behind any given image chose to show a certain animal species rather than any other species. These scholars may acknowledge statistical associations of species or recognize certain preferential configurations (for example, the frequent juxtapositions of horse and bison), but they avoid efforts to define specific roles to individual species or read associations of species as narrative scenes. The resulting lack of distinction between different motifs is a serious impediment to interpretation. The present project presumes that the animal figures were used as metaphors in a visual language, and in consequence of this assumption, that each species was associated with a particular set of ideas. Motifs were individualized and not interchangeable.
Art history and Ice Age art
The present project departs from earlier interpretive readings in its acceptance of Ice Age art as a genuine form of visual communication, as a platform for narrative contents that may be thoughtful, even speculative. That this view differs markedly from common approaches is explained by the fact that the exploration of Ice Age art since its discovery has been the near-exclusive domain of archaeologists and anthropologists; that is, scholars who typically take a limited interest in the specific, imaginative and expressive, characteristics of artistic invention, and who tend to classify the arts as extensions of material culture and social norms. As an art historian, the present author approaches Palaeolithic art with the expectation that it is a visual language, one that may be analyzed successfully using standard methodologies of art history (cf. Chapter II).
Formal analysis is, however, only a first step toward an interpretation, as the visual ideas identified in the process provide only a general outline of a narrative, while the actual–imaginary, narrative, conceptual, religious–contents must come from cross-cultural comparisons. Relevant ideas about the implied meaning of prehistoric images have to be derived from parallel visual ideas within later, better known cultures. This is not to say, that just any similarities between two images from different cultures guarantee identity of meaning. Crucial is, however, that we not be too rash to dismiss the possibility that the earlier image may be the prototype for the similar, later image. Similarity encourages us to, at least hypothetically, speculate that the later image retains traces of meaning invested in the earlier image.
If, for example, we hypothesize that the horse represents the sun, we may compare the above-mentioned Lascaux horse–the one adorned by a yellow aura–with proto-historical images of horses that carry solar symbols; motifs that are familiar from petroglyphs (in the Alps and along Scandinavian fjords) and even from cult objects like the Trundholm horse pulling a wagon with a gold-covered bronze disk. Among many other variations on the horse motif in Lascaux we may also consider the image of a horse that is positioned vertically with its front legs pointing upwards (Aujoulat 2004, 131); this is a figure we may compare with images of the Roman sun god (sol invictus) and his span of rearing horses. Examples, at Lascaux and elsewhere abound (cf. Chapter V). If we hope to understand Ice Age art, we must seriously weigh the evidence of visual traditions across the ages.
Narrative traditions, both oral and written, may also render distant echoes of Palaeolithic concepts and provide keys to cave art. Three potentially relevant sources stand out: oral traditions of archaic, preliterate cultures (in northern Asia and North America, notably); folk lore of pre-industrial farming societies in Europe; and, the religious/philosophical texts of early literate civilizations. Again, taking for an example the assumed relationship of the horse and the sun in Ice Age art, we might find circumstantial evidence in the Rig Veda, which explicitly describes the important Indian horse sacrifice (the ashvamedha) in terms of solar symbolism: the sacrificed horse is the sun, or the horse is the solar year; the horse’s head is the sunrise, or its forequarters represent the spring. Such specifics seem highly relevant to a great number of Ice Age images of horses.
The longevity of visual ideas: three episodes
In dynastic Egypt, many deities appear as human beings with animal attributes (a falcon’s head, a cow’s horns) and we may surmise that this practice points back to a much older age, when the representations were all animal. The sky goddess Nut occurs in both a human shape and in the form of a cow (and in one text, as a sow who eats her piglets, the stars, every morning). The similarity between a painting of Nut as a cow in the tomb of Setis I (Fig. 3) and a painting of a black cow in Lascaux (Fig. 2) suggests that Nut as a celestial cow may have ancient roots reaching back to the age of the cave art.
A closer comparison of the two images confirms this impression. The Egyptian representation of the dark cow shows Nut as the night sky, which is, indeed, indicated by the stars on her body (Fig. 3), and the painting illustrates the myth of Nut who swallows the old sun at night (her head is in the west), and gives birth to the new sun in the morning (her rear is in the east). The sun god was believed to sail through the sky, and correspondingly the painting shows the aging sun god in his boat placed at her forequarters, while the young sun god in his boat is placed at her hindquarters. In Lascaux (Fig. 2) the large black cow (an aurochs, the original wild cattle) stands out by its enormity and by the rather square shape of its huge body; positioned high on a domed vault, she also seems to be an apt image of the night sky. The cow is painted over a file of smaller horses, partly obscuring them, so that the horses–following their movement, from right to left–disappear into the body of the cow on the side of her forequarters, continue (almost invisible) underneath the black paint, and reappear at her hindquarters. In effect, the horses in the Lascaux scene follow the same path as the sun god in the Egyptian painting, as they pass through the body of the large cow. We may consider the cross-cultural comparison a valid argument, not just for the Lascaux cow as representative of the sky, but also for the horse-as-the-sun thesis. Until a few years ago, many scholars would have automatically dismissed as far-fetched any comparison between an image of the European Ice Age and one of dynastic Egypt, but this position has become obsolete, since rock art at the Upper Egyptian site of Qurta recently was dated to the Pleistocene (Ice Age), being at least 15,000 years old (Huyge et al. 2010, and 2011). The evidence of a shared background for our two images is the more compelling, as the predominant motif of the Qurta petroglyphs is the aurochs, and even more so, as these figures are engraved in a style that is quite close to the aurochs of Lascaux.
A very different motif that we may trace even farther back in time consists of a monster with multiple heads. If we compare the three-headed lion in the cave of Chauvet (Fig. 4) with the three-headed dog in a Greek vase painting (Fig. 5), we can hardly ignore the similarities, for both creatures have only one body, which is defined by the tail and the hind legs, and onto this body multiple heads are affixed by clever, optical illusions. At Chauvet (Fig. 4) the line of the animal’s back may serve either of the two upper heads, while two more back-lines end inconclusively in the middle of the body; moreover, the front legs are ambiguous, as the one to the right belongs to the topmost head, while the one to the left serves both the top head and the middle head. Neither of these legs match the line of the stomach, which belongs to the whole body. This is not a poor attempt to show perspective (as suggested by Clottes & Azéma 2005, 82), but a deliberate, artistic sleight of hand, used to create a mythical being, that we recognize as the distant ancestor of the Greek image.
The Greek monster is Cerberus, the guardian of the netherworld. That it is canine, not feline, seems inconsequential (the people of Chauvet did not have dogs). More important, Cerberus’ well-established, mythical role of keeping the dead from escaping is matched by the topographical setting of the monster in Chauvet (Fig. 6): the multi-headed lion is placed immediately above the entrance to a small chamber, the “Sacristy,” which is the innermost and deepest space in the cave. Almost certainly, the monster is guarding this narrow opening. As if to confirm this view, a horse is shown in the act of emerging from within–literally, caught in the middle–with only its forequarters visible from outside (Fig. 6). Placed directly under the snarling heads of the monster, this horse is apparently trying to escape from a netherworld in the depths of the cave. If we again, hypothetically, assume that the horse is a solar image, a plausible and pertinent reading present itself: the scene concerns the travel of the sun to a land of the dead. Following that thought, we are reminded that Lascaux likewise shows a horse surrounded by monstrous lions, in a scene that, here too, is located at the end of the cave with the ambience of a realm of the dead (cf. Chapters V, VIII, XI). Keeping in mind the above-mentioned black cow of Lascaux , we are further reminded that–like Nut in Egypt–this figure is simultaneously the night sky and the netherworld–through which the solar horses pass. The sun in the netherworld is, evidently, a recurrent theme in the caves.
Horses, aurochs, and lions survived the period of Palaeolithic cave art and continued to be represented in images and stories of post-Ice Age Eurasia, providing interpreters with a fund of sources for comparative studies. Other species, however, disappeared without leaving visual or textual materials for comparison. Most significant, the bison–the most frequent motif after the horse–became virtually extinct and played no role, neither in later art forms nor in traditional religious lore (an exception, the “bison-men” in Mesopotamian cylinder seals are not yet identified by extant texts and, so, not helpful). However, the human populations who migrated to North America retained their connection with the bison until historical times, to the effect that Native American traditions are prime references for interpreting images of bison in European caves.
We may, for example, turn to Native American lore in order to comprehend the particular representation of the bison in the form of a male human dancer wearing a bison outfit. A painting in the early cave of Chauvet (Fig. 7a) shows a man disguised in a bison’s robe (with the head attached), his bent knees characterizing him as a dancer. This is an early version of a frequently-used motif in the caves, one we encounter, for example, in the much later images of Trois-Frères (Fig. 7b). Fortunately, the bison-masked dancer persisted as a living reality in North America. In fact, the actual ritual dance was described and depicted by George Catlin, the pioneering artist and explorer, who in the nineteenth century observed the “Bull Dance” as performed by the Mandans of Missouri (Fig. 8). From Catlin’s paintings and commentary we learn, for example, that the Mandan dancers, participating in a ceremony of early spring, wore bundles of willow twigs on their backs, an association of bison and the renewal of the earth and its vegetation that, indeed, appears to be highly relevant to bison imagery in Ice Age caves as well (cf. Chapter III). Of course, this is not to say that the Mandan ritual was inspired by Chauvet or other European cave art. A more likely explanation of the shared concept is that the movement out of Africa and into Eurasia divided into a western and an eastern branch–the latter eventually reaching America–even before the earliest cave art in Europe.
Caves as frameworks of beliefs, rituals and emotions
For decades, positivist scholars in the field of Palaeolithic art have given full attention to mundane subjects in the art works, while ignoring spiritual issues, and their tendency to highlight the profane and down-play the sacred has significantly curtailed interpretive readings of works. An intentionally trivial and reductive description of a given image (for example, “the image shows a horse,” or, “the horse is wounded”) discards the element of imagination, whereas an interpretive, even hypothetical, reading (for example, “the horse is the sun,” or, “the sun is dying”) provides for an opportunity to capture some of the artist’s inspiration and the emotions invested in the image.
In the same vein, a purely objective description of the physical space of a decorated cave assumes that the artists responded to the site in a neutral mode, without profound engagement. On the elementary level of geological realities, the caves induce instinctual responses that may rank from fear and horror to awe and reverence, reactions that may be largely the same for modern visitors as they were for the Palaeolithic artists. Each cave is different, and each provides different experiences and, thus, specific clues for the interpretation of ideas and emotions embedded in the decoration.
Pergouset is an example of a cave that is little more than an oppressive tunnel through which the visitor must creep, often reduced to crawling in wet soil, or squeezing through claustrophobia-inducing narrow passages; nowhere is it possible to stand up straight (Lorblanchet 2001). Many figures were executed from strenuous positions; yet, the cave is a genuine sanctuary, decorated throughout its length with scores of engravings. True to its forbidding overall character, Pergouset has one chamber in which the walls are crowded with grotesquely deformed animals and wildly imaginary, demonic creatures. This extraordinary display of monstrosity confirms our assumption that Palaeolithic visitors–like modern ones–experienced Pergouset as an odd and disturbing place.
Lascaux exemplifies a different class of sanctuaries, a physical and emotional contrast to Pergouset. At Lascaux, the natural form of the cave and the spirit of the decoration unite to project a bright and joyful celebration of creation. The cave itself is fairly dry (as opposed to many otherworldly cave realms of stalagmites and stalactites). The vaulted ceilings of Lascaux are smooth and shiny, so much so as to recall the dome of the sky (Christensen 1996). The main galleries are decorated with paintings on an enormous scale, while miniature engravings–the exclusive medium in Pergouset–are relegated to peripheral sections. The giant white aurochs bulls in the Rotunda of Lascaux project energy and fertility, and the painted friezes of horses–the main motif of the cave–are vivacious and colorful, and thus–pursuant to the above hypothesis–suitable for images of the sun’s course through the year,. In a sense, Pergouset and Lascaux are like night and day, and the artists’ decorative schemes reflect this difference.
In another sense, the two caves are ultimately two manifestations, however different, of the same intellectual culture. Lascaux, too, has images that show detractive aspects of the world, even if the artists who decorated the majestic cave chose to keep negative associations at bay. Thus, the cave has only one rhinoceros among a thousand figures, and this brute is banished to the bottom of the deep, well-like Shaft; likewise, a gathering of monstrous lions, is located in a tiny, remote chamber beyond a narrow “cat hole.” The cave’s only imaginary creature (a masked dancer with straight horns) is dwarfed within the frieze of giant white bulls. Pergouset, for its part, also has positive images, notably in one chamber that features vulvas and a woman’s body. Even this gloomy cave has only one image of a lion which, here too, is relegated to a recess near the end of the cave. The horse is significant at both sites, only more overwhelmingly so at Lascaux. Both caves show images of horses in vertical positions (images of the rising and setting sun, we may speculate). In both caves the chamber closest to the entrance features aurochs and deer with large antlers that carry positive connotations of sexuality and growth.
The above comparison illustrates the complex blend of inspiration and calculation by which the artists, on the one hand, responded emotionally to the given features of the site, and on the other hand, constructed a decorative scheme from widely shared ideas and techniques. To understand the artists’ creative process, we must distinguish between run-of-the-mill adaptations to the inevitable irregularities in the supporting medium–trivial procedures that affect every image in rock art–and the emotional response to unusual and suggestive features of a cave. An example of artists’ awe and excitement in the face of a powerful, nature-given feature of a cave is found in Tuc d’Audoubert, near the well-known group of two bison modeled in clay. These figures are located in a chamber at the very end of a long, tortuous corridor, and the clay for the two sculptures was extracted from a tiny, low extension on one side of the chamber. The floor of this small space has numerous imprints of the artists’ feet–but only of their heels (Bégouën et al. 2009, 278-291). The clay surface, as discovered by the artists, was the sedimentary floor of a dried-up lake, perfectly smooth and intact, and to the artists–we may surmise–a virgin testimony to the emergence of the earth out of primeval waters (cf. Chapter III). To obtain the clay for their bison figures from this primordial source without desecrating the site with footprints, the artists walked laboriously on their heels, not unlike a modern devotee entering a sanctuary without shoes in respect of the purity of the place.
Two different paintings, about 10,000 years apart, one in Lascaux (Fig. 2) another in Chauvet (Fig. 6), may both illustrate episodes in the story of the sun, projected through images of horses. If this is correct, we are dealing with great consistency of ideas across widely separate regions and periods, and with a level of continuity that is feasible only because the works in question illustrate broadly significant issues. Undoubtedly, the sun was a durable subject in the frigid world of the cave artists, but beyond that, the sun remained, for a variety of reasons, significant to vastly different cultures through the ages (ancient Egypt, for example). As we analyze and interpret Ice Age art in general, we may be wise to, likewise, pursue issues that were relevant, not just in separate regions and ages of the Upper Palaeolithic, but also in later cultures and over long stretches of time. We shall, thus, concentrate on issues of broad, general significance to peoples across a wide span of time. In other words, we find ourselves drawn to topics that, by and large, are among the key subjects in the discipline of comparative religious studies. The following is a list of these topics with references to the chapters that deal specifically with each.
- The origins of the world and its elements: the waters and the earth (Chapter III); the sky (Chapter IV); the sun (Chapter V); fire and vital energies (Chapter VI).
- The laws that govern the ordered world, notably seasonal cycles (Chapter VII).
- The origins and sustenance of life: sexuality, the ancestors, rituals (Chapter VIII).
- Death, decay, and the end of time (Chapter IX).
- Philosophy: the binary system (Chapter X).
- Time reckoning: calendars; the proto-zodiac (Chapter XI).
The author’s intention (in 2014), to post a chapter per year, has not worked out (as of 2020). Presently, Chapters I, II, and X, are complete, and Chapter XI is nearly complete. Part Two of Chapter X (on sign language) as well as the Addendum to Chapter XI (Part Five, on the solar-lunar calendar) are additions to the original plan. Because the author realizes that at least five years are required to cover the remaining issues, he has posted preliminary summaries with each unwritten chapter in order to indicate its key subjects and projected scope.