Cave art technology

Hey there,

I’m in Timmins, ON and I’ve had a few different experiences in education including teaching in the public system, teaching English and French as a second language and being a TA in science labs – the most fun job ever! I’ve also designed online science courses and have started to teach myself about graphic design,  which follows from my love of all things artistic.

I’ve been to the Arctic, which was a life-changing experience that brought me to various Inuit communities, allowed me to see the sea floor and even get my hands dirty working in sediments. I walked on several beautiful sun-drenched beaches while wearing a winter coat. I slid down an ice hill and sipped melt water on an ice floe that my ship was parked on. I saw a not-quite-sunset where it took the sun a couple of hours to descend into the elbow space of the horizon before slowly heading back up into the sky. I was already a fan of nature before I went up there, given that I’m from a place where there are lakes and forests at every street corner. Experiencing the Arctic was something else though, with its vast expanses of water and land.

Photo credit: Carmem L Vilanova

I chose to show a picture about cave art because I am fascinated by primitive civilizations and their technological achievements. I’m not sure what technique was used to create this drawing, but it looks like the darker top layer was scraped away. When cave men make coloured drawings, the process involved grinding a natural product (red or yellow earth, charcoal and chalk) into a powdery pigment, mixing it with a binder like oil and applying it. They could also spray paint on to a surface using a tube (Ball, 2001).

What is most curious about this picture is the human-sized spool-shaped beings that are led forward by people. I suppose their species died out long ago, and that’s unfortunate because they seem to have gotten along well enough with humans to hold their hands.

I enjoy wondering about other civilizations’ activities, and I’m curious as to why primitive people drew on their walls. Was it for documentation or presentation purposes? Was it to experiment with different techniques and substances that were then used for a different purpose? Was it to study the shape and anatomy of objects and animals? Was it for artistic purposes or even just for fun? In the case of this picture, what was the artist really trying to represent? Could she or he understand that the image would stay for thousands of years afterward? I also wonder what other communication methods they used that may have since decomposed or been otherwise lost.

Ball, P. (2001). Bright earth. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

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3 Responses to Cave art technology

  1. Sarah Richer says:

    Hi Danielle,

    I’m also from Ontario, but closer to Toronto in Mississauga. I have also found ancient civilizations to be fascinating. Ever since I studied Ancient Egypt in Grade 5 I was hooked and was determined to discover it all. That fascination led me to move to Thailand for 3 years and walk amongst the castles, Wats and ancient ruins of South East Asia. My most brilliant moment in life was watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Thanks for your post. It brought back some fond memories. 🙂


  2. smyers says:

    Danielle, I have always wanted to go to the Arctic.
    Perhaps I could live vicariously through you. Would love to see some of your pics if you would like to share them.

    As for the cave painting. Thanks for sharing the process of how it was done. I had no idea. You gave me an idea of somehow working the “spraying of paint” done by cavemen into my graffitti unit in art class. (-:

    Also, an interesting perspective about what you “saw” in the painting. Prior to reading your post I looked at the cave painting and thought it was man holding hands with animals/nature. Interesting too that we “read” images from left to right based on our cultural perspective. That we would assume that the humans were leading the other creatures. Interesting!

  3. kstooshnov says:

    Hi Danielle,

    If the movie Prometheus taught me anything this summer, it was simply this: don’t assume too much about larger-than-human beings that appear in cave paintings. Those humans could just as easily be depicted running away, and warning others to do the same, than as leading these spool-shaped creatures. 😉

    But seriously, the keynote presentation at the conference I attended this summer gave an impressive look to the Arctic Circle, and introduced Adventure Learning which connects Aaron Doering’s USA-based classrooms to his field study around the Circle. His mission is to show students the real-time impact modern culture has on the environment and, if my flight home over Greenland was any indication, how important it is to document both nature and culture in the north before it melts away. I’d be very interested to hear more about your experiences on top of the world.


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