Recent discoveries and interpretations of my ancestors’ graves in Southern France, associated with cave paintings from fifty thousand years ago, gave me pause to think about modern notions of what it means to be human. The enduring beauty of the depictions of animals that inhabited the region then — including bison and reindeer — is all the more remarkable in that these works of art went undisturbed through so many generations, enabling us to “communicate”, so to speak, with those who expressed themselves so eloquently given the mediums available.
What was previously viewed by many as simply art, or perhaps magic ritual to ensure successful hunting, was enlightened by the discovery of a meticulously arranged burial site suggesting the noble leader interred facing the painting had been charged in death with a task of communicating with the spirit world — an ambassadorial task, if you will — the gratitude of his people for all the animals that provided for their material and psychic needs.
Oddly, it is possibly the message conveyed to their descendants that is of greatest importance today. Maybe their primitive ways weren’t so ignorant after all.