I. Ice Age Art: Basic Issues

(2014/ 2023)

The present study interprets Upper Palaeolithic cave art on the basis of two hypothetical assumptions: in the first place, that many of our current ideas and beliefs about the world 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 are encouraged to scrutinize historical sources (religious texts, myths, rituals, folklore) for authentic fragments of ancient concepts, far more intensively than what has been the practice in past studies of cave art.  In consequence of the second thesis, we may approach Palaeolithic art assuming that it is accessible to formal analysis, even though the ancient works appear alien or disorganized to a modern observer.  Thus, the study of Palaeolithic art challenges us to pursue evidence of permanence and continuity in spite of apparent alienation and interruption.

This chapter illustrates the above approach with select examples of Palaeolithic art works that find ready parallels in imagery of much later cultures, and notably, in images that are illuminated by historical sources and belong within known cultural contexts. We aim to demonstrate that valid insights are lost if we ignore such similarities between Ice Age art and later arts, or if we dismiss potentially relevant, historical evidence.

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 southern Spain, 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 those 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 decorated artifacts; 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 show 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 the accumulated images within the authentic settings of the cave spaces, partly because the natural, physical features of the caves are potentially meaningful.

An accomplished art form

In the wider perspective of world arts, Upper Palaeolithic cave art is unique as a large, distinct body of ancient art, but it is neither the oldest art form in the world nor “primitive” by any standard. Though the narrative techniques of that era differ from those of modern arts, the works are neither 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 (see Chapter XI, Fig. 47c).

From the earliest to the latest cave sanctuaries, we find a number of recurring practices that define Palaeolithic cave art as a cogent art form.  Thus, the chosen motifs point to standard practices, notably the preference for certain animal species, the horse not the least. Many caves have dozens of horses, a few even have hundreds, and 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; rather, the preponderance of horses reflects certain, generally accepted ideas that were associated with this motif. 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 ones to combine in their compositions (Sauvet and Wlodarczyk 1995, and 2000-2001).

Unifying features of this art form include the use of cave spaces, in particular the attention given to cavities (niches, fissures) and to the innermost parts of a cave. In spite of the bewildering variety of the given, natural spaces, the decorations of caves often achieve a sensation of religious fervor comparable to that of later, man-made sanctuaries. An example of artists’ expression of awe and excitement in the face of certain, nature-given features of caves 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 perceived purity of the place.

The just-mentioned elements confirm the–admittedly, not universally shared–impression, that Ice Age art, in spite of stylistic changes and temporal/regional particularities, reflects a basic, 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 timeline (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 may not be provable–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 suggest, Neanderthals–or crossbreeds–could be among the first artists in the European caves.

Understanding Ice Age art

Considering the many layers of cultural transformation 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 many thousands of images should remain forever 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 timeline (Fig. 1b), now zooming in on the approximately 40,000 years since Homo sapiens‘ first creative work in Western Europe, we realize the absurdity of assuming that the 25,000 years 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 appear in written texts.

A few decades back, the “Neolithic Revolution” (the effect of food production, cities, specialized crafts) was widely perceived as an unbridgeable gap in mankind’s cultural development, but this dogma has lost its former status, as more recent 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 to us, that impression may, indeed, be well founded.

Extant readings of Ice Age art

During the last century and a half, responses to the evidence of Ice Age cave art by engaged scholars (archaeologists and anthropologists, primarily) have gone through evolving stages: from denial of its authenticity, via reductive acceptance (as  primitive magic, but not genuine religion), to a guarded recognition of its cultural validity. Over the last half century, a number of advanced scholars have ventured into more progressive theories of Ice Age art, particularly in the areas of conceptual thinking, rituals, mythology/worldview, and proto-scientific timekeeping.

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). Though widely criticized as simplistic, this theory remains influential, and Leslie G. Freeman, for example, followed this line of thinking, recognizing a binary scheme in the decoration of Altamira (Freeman and Echegaray 2001). A greatly expanded view of dualism in the art works is basic to the present presentation of the artists’ philosophical principles (cf. Chapter X).

As an alternative approach, the application of comparative mythology has contributed to the field by demonstrating the connection between deep cave spaces and the womb of a feasible “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 a third tier where subterranean waters still flow. Claude Barrière (1990) and Michel Lorblanchet (2001) have explored comparable spatial schemes in other caves, in which 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” that divides the world into horizontal tiers stacked one above the other (Lewis-Williams 2002) is obviously pertinent to cave sanctuaries, which are situated between the upper world of the sky and the lower world of subterranean waters. Evidence of shamanistic trance visions and spirit journeys remains elusive, but the tiered cosmos is essential to the creation myth of the cave artists as discussed below (cf.  Chapters III and IV).

Alexander Marshack initiated the reading of Palaeolithic art as “time-factored,” that is, as pictures of animals and plants replete with indications of seasons and biological rhythms in (1972/1991), an approach that remains central to the discipline. Marshack, furthermore, read numerous artifacts with notational marks as observational, lunar calendars. Though this thesis remains contested, calendrical systems are recognizable in 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 archaeo-astronomy 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 then–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 significant coincidence of a zodiacal constellation (Taurus), with a seasonal solar manifestation, and, a possible solar image, all in the first chamber of the cave, introduces astronomy as a component of the artists’ decorative schemes (Cf. Chapter XI).

The above approaches–each a valuable contribution in its own way–share a major problem in so far as they fail to explain why the artists behind any given image chose to show a certain animal species rather than any other species. The just-mentioned authors may acknowledge statistical associations of species and recognize certain preferential configurations (for example, the frequent juxtapositions of horse and bison), but they studiously avoid assigning a particular, generally recognized role to each individual species in the artists’ repertory. Abnegating this potential interpretive approach, these authors fail to recognize cogent narrative and genuine scenes in the many compositions that bring together a variety of different species. Also, renouncing this approach, they miss the themes that, potentially, may unite the individual panels of a cave in a unified whole. The present project approaches the animal figures as metaphors in a visual language that allowed the artists to articulate complex ideas and to pursue a narrative program across the separate panels of a decorated cave.

Art history and Ice Age art

The present project departs from the above 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 elements 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 (as laid out in Chapter II). This approach, which ignores aesthetics and the subjective category of beauty, is based on iconography, that is analysis of the constituent elements of the visual language. 

Formal analysis is, however, only a first step toward an interpretation, as the visual ideas identified in the process provide, at best, only a general outline of the narrative, while the actual–imaginary, narrative, conceptual, religious–contents must be teased out of the visual elements by way of cross-cultural comparisons; relevant ideas about the implied meaning of prehistoric images have to be derived from similar visual ideas within later, better known cultures. This is not to say, that just any similarity between two images from different cultures implies identical ideas, but it does imply willingness to consider the possibility that the earlier image may be the prototype for the later, similar one. We may assume, at least hypothetically, that the later work retains traces of meaning invested in the earlier work.

If we, for example, speculate that the above-mentioned Lascaux horse–the one adorned by a yellow aura–represents the sun, we may find it helpful to review proto-historical images of horses that carry solar symbols, as this motif is familiar from petroglyphs (in the Alps and along Scandinavian fjords) and even represented in cult objects like the Bronze-age Trundholm horse pulling a wagon with a large, gold-plated disk. We may, further, find historical parallels to some of the many variations on the horse motif to be found in Lascaux. Thus, we may consider the image of a horse that is positioned vertically with its front legs pointing upwards (Aujoulat 2004, 131), a figure that the largely positivistic scholarly field has named the “falling horse.” We may compare this Ice Age motif with images of the Roman sun god (sol invictus) and his span of rearing horses to support a different reading of the vertical horse as rising, namely, related to the rising sun. 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 season. Such specifics seem highly relevant to a great number of Ice Age images of horses (cf. Chapter V).

Historical sanctuaries, from shrines to temples or cathedrals, demonstrate that holy places may be organized according to distinct programs; this is true even though such sites also allow for accidental accumulations of elements or shifting outlooks.  Though Ice Age cave sanctuaries were nature-given, and their ambient characters were highly varied, the decorations may follow deliberate schemes that are comparable to the artistic programs of historical periods. For all we know, artists never decorated temples or churches following their whims and moods; rather, they followed the programmatic ideas of their communities or their leaders. Such designs as we may find in decorated caves hardly reflect the quite rigid, “ideal” decorative scheme suggested by A. Leroi-Gourhan; rather the artists and their audiences devised plans that would accommodate their perception of the specific features of any given cave, including their emotional response to unusual and suggestive features of a cave. 

Pergouset is an example of a cave that is little more than an oppressive tunnel, through which visitors must creep, often 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 the Palaeolithic artists experienced Pergouset as an odd and disturbing place and adapted their decoration to this view.

Lascaux exemplifies 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 about the horse–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, much like historical churches may differ significantly in the character of their decorative schemes, and yet project basically the same faith. Thus, Lascaux also 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. For example, the cave has the image of a rhinoceros, but only one (among a thousand figures), and the artists banished this brute to the bottom of the deep, well-like Shaft; likewise, a gathering of monstrous lions, is located in a tiny chamber, far removed from the main cave and situated beyond a narrow “cat hole.” Lascaux has no gatherings of monsters, like Pergouset. On the other hand, the latter cave also contains positive images, notably in one chamber that features vulvas and a woman’s body, and 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. Significantly, the horse is important at both sites–only more overwhelmingly so in Lascaux–and both caves show images of horses in vertical positions–images of the rising and setting sun, we may speculate. 

Long-lasting visual ideas: three episodes

(1) The sky-cow of Lascaux. 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 our 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 has been 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.


(2) The guarding lion-monster of Chauvet. 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 creature’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, is inconsequential (the people of Chauvet did not have dogs). Important is the fact that Cerberus’ well-established, mythical role of keeping the dead from escaping the netherworld 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. Without fail, the monster is guarding this narrow opening, and 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 presents 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, XI). Also keeping in mind the above-mentioned black  cow of Lascaux , we may recall that–like Nut in Egypt–this figure is simultaneously the night sky and the netherworld–through which the solar horses pass. The travel of the sun through the netherworld is, apparently, a recurrent theme in the caves.


(3) The bison bull dancer of Trois-Frères. 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, among 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.


Two different paintings, about 10,000 years apart, one in Lascaux (Fig. 2) the other 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 if we assume that 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, 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 concepts 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: the proto-zodiac, and luni-solar calendars (Chapter XI).

The author’s intention (in 2014), to post a chapter per year, has not worked out (as of 2024). Presently, Chapters I, II, III, IV, and X are complete, and Chapter XI is nearly complete. Part Two of Chapter X (on symbolic signs) 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 five-to-ten years are required to cover the remaining issues, he has posted a preliminary summary with each unwritten chapter in order to indicate its key subjects and projected scope.