an artists' view

an artists' view

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

A film by Werner Hertzog.

On Wednesday we went to Bradford to see this documentary film, about the Chauvet caves in Southern France. The caves were discovered in 1994, and were hidden by a landslide; inside were discovered 32,000 year old rock art images. Bison, lions, bears, horses, all from the time when ice-sheets covered northern Europe, and there existed still, a landbridge between Britain, and the European continent.

The images are stunning. The animals are almost alive; you can almost see them breathing, hear them neighing/growling/galloping. The geology of the earth has altered so much, that calcification has blanketed some of the bear skulls, joining them to the rock of the cave floor. Many of the stalactites and stalagmites weren't there when the rock art was created!

Mind-boggling! One of the skulls of the cave bears is placed on a stone, looking out at the original entrance of the cave. The stone is almost an 'altar'. It was obviously deliberately positioned there.

Interviews with an archeologist who has worked on the cave site, revealed that he had dreamed of lions, after working in the cave for 5 days. He had to stay out of the caves for a while, to get his bearings again.

Hertzog asked him 'were you afraid?' The archaeologist replied 'no', but he was aware of 'something deep'.

In the course of the filming the crew, and some of the scientists admitted that they had felt that the people who'd made the art, were watching them, whilst they were working in the caves.

Jon and I left the cinema in silence. I was just awed, in the true sense of the word. Jon said 'It puts all this in perspective, doesn't it?' as we took in the Bradford cityscape, and got into the car, to drive home.

The archaeologist had said that we could learn from other tribal societies how to look at rock art differently. He recounted how an ethnographer had visited Australia, with an Aboriginal guide, and they had visited a rock shelter where rock art was painted. The rock art hadn't been re-painted for a while, and the Aborigine began to paint. The ethnographer asked why he was repainting it; the Aborigine replied 'I'm not repainting it; the spirits are'.

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