The Chauvet cave paintings in France are 35,000 years old, and yet, they look like they could have been drawn this week; they startle us not only by their fresh appearance, but also by their mature rendering. These paintings, in a sense, are messages in a bottle, and the bottle has somehow managed to reach us.
When we see these paintings, we start to wonder about who made them. What was life like in Europe 35,000 years ago? These people apparently had cave bears and rhinoceroses to deal with, but they also had to contend with Neanderthals and the harsh conditions of a continent covered in glaciers. And yet, were these people all that different from us?
Scientists have discovered flutes carved out of animal tasks that date from the period. So these people enjoyed playing and listening to music. There are also indications that these people had a sense of spirituality, and the paintings on the cave walls, of course, demonstrate that they had an appreciation for art. Maybe human beings have not changed all that much – at least in a basic or essential sense – in the last 35,000 years. The fact that these cave paintings “speak” to us and communicate a story seems to prove this.
Homo sapiens means “wise man” or “rational man” or “the man who knows,” and we have been roaming the planet for the past 100,000 years, give or take. Recorded history only goes back a few thousand years, and even though we know some of the human biography, much has been seemingly lost forever. Discoveries like the Chauvet cave paintings, however, suggest that the distant past might not be as distant as it sometimes seems.
What constitutes humanness?
“Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.” – Sigmund Freud