Our first lecture, The Birth of Symbolic Language, spoke about the very first use of images as communication. In particular, we looked at drawings left behind by prehistoric communities, prior to the development of cognitive abilities and the vocal tract, to understand and produce words. Therefore, they would have communicated simply by gesture and symbols. I found this topic extremely interesting – the very fact that cave paintings created millions of years ago still remain, mostly intact, today is amazing.

The first cave paintings seem to be mainly pictorial representations of animals. I did not know much about cave art before this lecture, and certainly nothing in detail, but after further research in the Chauvet and Lascaux cave paintings, I have come to realise how incredible they are. I was surprised to see the amount of detail in these illustrations. There is some use of shading and tone, and different ways of applying the ‘paint’ have been administered to mimic the patterns on the hides. The unfinished lines and blurred edges also add the illusion of movement and energy (although this may simply be due to the way time has aged and distorted the rock surface and painting). I believe the Lascaux cave image below of the red cow and the chinese horse illustrates this perfectly – also it is one of my favourites.

lascaux3a Red Cow & First Chinese Horse

The insights and information available to us about our history as a species from these simple drawings is irreplaceable. Without words, not only did they successfully communicate with each other, millions of years later they are communicating with us, offering information about the society, events, religion, even narrative sequences about their day to day lives.