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Why are people obsessed with horses in prehistoric times?

Lascaux cave paintings are the oldest and most complete Paleolithic art treasures in Europe and even the world.

Lascaux cave paintings are the oldest and most complete Paleolithic art treasures in Europe and even the world.

In the 1940s, French archaeologists conducted a lot of research on murals. In the black-clothed boy’s photo, facing the camera is the boy Marcel Lavida, the discoverer of the Lascaux cave paintings.

After the frescoes of the Lascaux Caves were discovered, they attracted a large number of tourists to visit. The French government found that this caused a certain degree of damage to the murals.

On September 8, 1940, when the boy Marcel Lavida was walking in the woods near his home, his puppy named Robot suddenly disappeared. After a hurried search, Marcel found that the puppy accidentally fell into a pit while chasing the rabbit. Marcel jumped into the pit to rescue the frightened dog. He noticed a small but deep hole in the bottom of the pit, and his heartbeat accelerated.

Marcel’s hometown is Montignac in southwestern France. It is located in the historic Vézère Valley. Local legend has it that there is a secret tunnel leading to a nearby castle, near the shallow pit where the puppy fell. Marcel was sure that he had found the hidden tunnel. Four days later, he called his three friends to explore together.

After squeezing in through the narrow opening, the little boys found a winding and narrow passage. They proceeded cautiously. After walking about 15 meters, they suddenly opened up. They found themselves in a huge cave. With the help of the faint light of the oil lamp that they carry with them, the boys try to identify their surroundings. Suddenly, a boy pointed his finger at the rock wall and started crying in fright. It turns out that the rock walls of the cave are full of images of animals. They have the brightest colors and the most surging posture. The little boys who strayed into the cave discovered the Lascaux Cave paintings that later became famous throughout the world.

Art Treasures of the Paleolithic Age
As soon as the Lascaux cave paintings were discovered, they were listed as key cultural relics under protection by the French government. People soon discovered that the cave paintings are the oldest and most complete Paleolithic art treasures in Europe and even the world. Archaeologists have discovered that its creation dates back to 15,000 BC. In the dazzling murals, more than 6,000 animal images are depicted. Although painted by several different groups, all the murals are rendered with excellent skills.

It can be seen that the artists who painted these murals used a variety of pigments, including red hematite, yellow goethite and black manganese. Artists mix minerals with binders (such as animal fat, clay or water) to make basic paint. Or grind various minerals into powder, and then use reindeer bones to “dot” on the rock wall. Some murals are too high, and painters can only draw on special scaffolding. For some of the works at the bottom, the painter can only draw a deep hole.

Lascaux cave paintings depict many species of animals, including stags, ibex, bison, ox (an extinct ancient bison), cats, bears, birds and even a rhino. But the most common is still horses. Other animals are almost concentrated in a certain area, and horses are everywhere and in large numbers. It is estimated that the image of a horse accounts for more than 60% of all the identifiable animals in the Murals of Lascaux Caves.

It can be seen that the mural painters are very familiar and very fond of the animals they depict, especially horses. This is impressive. The horse in the mural has a fat waist, short and thin legs, and a straight mane. It looks very similar to today’s Przewalski horse. Although prehistoric artists described horses in different ways, most of them have black outlines, light brown coats, and light or mottled hooves. Some horses are standing still, others are walking. More horses are galloping on the grasslands of prehistoric France, either in a race or escaping from invisible enemies.

The frequency with which horses appear in the Murals of the Lascaux Caves is confusing. Because horses were domesticated by humans at least 10,000 years ago. Moreover, in the early stages of the development of human history, horse meat and horse skins were mainly needed, as was the case with the early Paleolithic humans who lived in Lascaux. By studying the bones found in the cave, archaeologists discovered that reindeer was the most important food source for people at that time. In contrast, horses seem to rarely appear on the menu.

So why are the painters of Lascaux so obsessed with depicting horses?

What is the use of prehistoric murals
To answer this question, we must first ask what is the use of Paleolithic petroglyphs. This is a tricky question. Without any written records, we can say that we don’t know anything about prehistoric artists’ visual culture, belief system, and relationship with the natural world. It is difficult for scholars to determine how to understand the paintings of Lascaux Caves Not to mention answering the question of why horses play such an important role in it.

Some archaeologists believe that we can’t tell what function the Lascaux cave paintings have. Paul Barn, a well-known British archaeologist, translator, and host of an archaeological show, believes that the function of the Lascaux cave paintings can only be unreliable guesses. He believes that if prehistoric artists are unable to provide testimony, then “the interpretation of rock painting art is based on speculation, and it is dishonest to deceive yourself if you do not admit this.”

However, some experts are less pessimistic. For example, Italian rock art expert Emmanuel Anati pointed out that people in the Paleolithic age probably understood Lascaux cave paintings without relying on special experience, so we should be able to understand too. This requires “entering the right mental state”.

But what is the “right mindset”? How should we “fit in”?

Hunting magic
The first attempt to solve this problem was the French archaeologist Buriye. He was a pioneer in the study of Paleolithic art and the first to systematically study the Ruins of Lascaux. In his opinion, it is best to understand these paintings by analogy. He saw that these murals originated from a society that relied on hunter-gatherers for their livelihoods, so he tried to explain the purpose of Lascaux murals by observing how similar cultures use such images. To this end, he studied the Arndans tribe in central Australia.

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