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Children Helped Decorate Prehistoric Caves of France

timothy posted about 3 years ago | from the could've-been-circus-folk dept.

Science 72

sciencehabit writes "Among the prolific paintings and other art in the 8 kilometer-long Rouffignac cave system in southwestern France are a number of unusual markings known as finger flutings, which are made by people dragging their hands through the soft silt that lines the cave's walls. By analyzing the finger flutings of modern humans, researchers discovered that the ratio of the distance between the three middle fingers indicate that many of the cave artists were very young children, one as young as 2 or 3 years old. The researchers were also able to tell the children's genders from the shape of the fingers."

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first fluting (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37586678)

first fluting

The first Barney the dinosaur? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37586682)

How do they not know it it wasn't 'Barney the prehistoric dinosaur'? :) :) Or perhaps some prey they captured and about to kill for food as it's clawing away?

So like my oldest (1)

Bob the Super Hamste (1152367) | about 3 years ago | (#37586686)

So this sounds just like my oldest (3 years) he is always dragging his fingers across the walls. I guess kids never really change.

Re:So like my oldest (1)

jawtheshark (198669) | about 3 years ago | (#37587924)

I'm 34... and still do that. It's not something I do consciously.

Re:So like my oldest (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37589318)

28, and I do it too, though it's more conscious I suppose. There's just something about knowing how close I am to a wall I guess..

Re:So like my oldest (1)

Gilmoure (18428) | about 3 years ago | (#37589838)

with me (43 (yeah, yeah, get off my yada, yada, yada...)), it's about textures. I just like touching things and the movement of going past walls and feeling the texture change quickly is pretty cool.

Re:So like my oldest (2)

Oligonicella (659917) | about 3 years ago | (#37591594)

Why, you puppies (62 here) don't remember what it was like when all walls had textures. You didn't have to get into traffic and drive down to the texture museum, you had real plaster walls right at home.

It was glorious.

My grandpa used to regale me with stories of wattle.

Re:So like my oldest (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37591660)

It's all great till you get a splinter or a gash.

After some experience you don't need to run your fingers over walls to know how they would feel. Unless they're very unusual walls you'd have a good idea already.

And you certainly know how it feels to have a splinter stuck in you, or having your skin ripped open by a nail or other stuff sticking out of the wall.

Re:So like my oldest (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | about 3 years ago | (#37596990)

My grandpa used to regale me with stories of wattle.

Wattle is great. It's the daub that can get a little objectionable to work with. Unless the shit is well rotted along with the mud and straw.

When my parents and I were re-wiring their house - back in the early 1970s - we had to remove and then repair substantial areas of lath-and-plaster walling We were replacing the existing strands of single-core wire with rubber and cloth insulation with new cables that used modern plastic insulation. But it used to freak me slightly that the fibre-reinforcement of the plaster (yes, it was a composite material, generally akin to glass-fibre-reinforced-plastic or carbon-fibre-reinforced-epoxy) was strands of horse hair several centimetres long. In perspective it shows me two things : how many horses were around in those days, and how much re-cycling they did in those days.

These days, it would be like collecting the "marbles" of tyre rubber from the roads and using them as building material. And people object to recycling "because it's not what my Daddy did" ? !

Re:So like my oldest (1)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | about 3 years ago | (#37588494)

No. He's marking the walls to get your attention because you spend too much time posting on Slashdot instead of raising your progeny. Now get back to your guilt trip!

Here's a little more info from the paywalled link (5, Interesting)

ridgecritter (934252) | about 3 years ago | (#37586688)

"Most preschoolers get scolded for writing on walls, but kids living 13,000 years ago were encouraged to scribble, at least in caves. Among the prolific paintings and other art in the 8 kilometer-long Rouffignac cave system in southwestern France are a number of unusual markings known as finger flutings, which are made by people dragging their hands through the soft silt that lines the cave's walls. By analyzing the finger flutings of modern humans, researchers discovered that the ratio of the distance between the three middle fingers indicate that many of the cave artists were very young children, one as young as 2 or 3 years old. The researchers were also able to tell the children's genders from the shape of the fingers. Some of these flutings were too steady for a toddler, suggesting that an adult guided the child's hand while teaching him or her, the researchers will report this weekend at the archaeology of childhood conference in Cambridge, U.K. Since the children's drawings seemed to be concentrated in one chamber, the researchers believe that the alcove may have been a sort of art school. And some of the drawings were high on the walls and on the ceiling, suggesting that the children were lifted."

Very cool. I love how we can open windows onto our ancestors' lives through a bunch of boring measurements of finger tracks on a dusty cave wall.

Re:Here's a little more info from the paywalled li (1)

JustOK (667959) | about 3 years ago | (#37587048)

there's probably pre-historic boogers mixed in.

How long will *your* refrigerator door last? (3, Interesting)

billstewart (78916) | about 3 years ago | (#37587052)

My mom still has one of those plaster castings of a handprint one of us did in kindergarten sitting in one of her cabinets. I'm not sure we know who, unless the teacher wrote our name on the back :-)

Meanwhile, if you ever get another chance to see the movie Cave of Forgotten Dreams [imdb.com] in 3D, absolutely go see it. Werner Herzog took a camera crew into the oldest known painted cave in France for a couple of days, and it really did need to be filmed in 3D.

Re:How long will *your* refrigerator door last? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37587216)

I agree about Cave of Forgotten Dreams, see it in theatres before it's too late. I was fortunate enough to catch it in a limited run in Montreal before it disappeared forever.

But some of the video work is wonky (some shots required using consumer-level cameras which ended up with some grainy and pain-inducing 3d sequences), and some 2d shots in the cave were converted to 3d for no apparent reason.

That's the negatives that noone have mentioned though, look at the positive reviews, it's a masterpiece of weirdness to, at least in some small way, shake up our modern bland sensibilities.

Re:How long will *your* refrigerator door last? (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | about 3 years ago | (#37596966)

Meanwhile, if you ever get another chance to see the movie Cave of Forgotten Dreams in 3D,

Unfortunately the only cinema within 300 miles that showed it ... doesn't have any 3D facilities. There's a possibility that it'll appear at the local Imax theatre one day (though the cave would not permit the entry of Imax cameras), which would be worth the 400-mile round trip to see it. I'd have to get the bus though - I doubt that I'd want to drive with the post-3D headache.

But, having seen the 2D version ... I think it'd be worth the effort to see it in 3D. It's the only film I've said that about.

Re:Here's a little more info from the paywalled li (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | about 3 years ago | (#37587398)

"Most preschoolers get scolded for writing on walls, but kids living 13,000 years ago were encouraged to scribble, at least in caves."

Uhm... How do they know that those children didn't get scolded for it too?

Re:Here's a little more info from the paywalled li (2)

BenSchuarmer (922752) | about 3 years ago | (#37587446)

"This why we not have nice things"

Re:Here's a little more info from the paywalled li (1)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | about 3 years ago | (#37588952)

Hmmm ... star wars ... or prehistoric humans ?

When will slashdot start supporting the philosoraptor in replies?

Re:Here's a little more info from the paywalled li (1)

JustNilt (984644) | about 3 years ago | (#37594608)

"Most preschoolers get scolded for writing on walls, but kids living 13,000 years ago were encouraged to scribble, at least in caves."

Uhm... How do they know that those children didn't get scolded for it too?

Last line of the linked article reads, " And some of the drawings were high on the walls and on the ceiling, suggesting that the children were lifted." I'm reasonably sure that's how they know. I suppose an argument could be made that it was their teenage siblings holding them up but back then by that age the teens would have been the parents of other 2 or 3 year olds.

Re:Here's a little more info from the paywalled li (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | about 3 years ago | (#37599020)

"Most preschoolers get scolded for writing on walls, but kids living 13,000 years ago were encouraged to scribble, at least in caves."

Uhm... How do they know that those children didn't get scolded for it too?

Last line of the linked article reads, " And some of the drawings were high on the walls and on the ceiling, suggesting that the children were lifted."

... however, concerning paintings done in comparably-dated caves, the location of some of the paintings practically requires the painters to have erected scaffolding of some sort, or at least ladders (though this begs the question of "where are the marks from the tips of the ladders?", which hasn't TTBOMK been seriously addressed).

Which re-raises the prospect of "There you are you little tyke! I told you not to come in here! SLAP!", followed by a leathering for daubing on grandpappy Ug's magic drawing,
"And it's no reindeer steak for you you troublesome little git, straight to bed with a baculum to suck on and think yourself lucky you're not getting thrown out tonight to take your chances with the wolves!"

Re:paywalled link (2)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | about 3 years ago | (#37590164)

You call that art? My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother could do that!

I think... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37586698)

MAD (the cartoon on Cartoon Network) may have joked about this already. Although I don't know if it was made before or after this knowledge.

Wonder what the Pink Floyd album would be like... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37586712)

with those kids back then. 'STAND STILL LADDIE!!'.

Art? (2)

Culture20 (968837) | about 3 years ago | (#37586714)

How are we sure it's not just people dragging their fingers along the wall to navigate in the dark?

Re:Art? (2, Funny)

Scutter (18425) | about 3 years ago | (#37586726)

How are we sure it's not just people dragging their fingers along the wall to navigate in the dark?

Or people trying desperately to find something to grab onto as some unspeakable horror dragged them into the depths of the cave by their ankles?

Re:Art? (1)

Romberg (1041416) | about 3 years ago | (#37586802)

It is pitch dark. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.

Re:Art? (1)

msauve (701917) | about 3 years ago | (#37586976)

A hollow voice says "Plugh."

Re:Art? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37587108)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4nigRT2KmCE

Re:Art? (1)

dzfoo (772245) | about 3 years ago | (#37587894)

> GET LAMP

Re:Art? (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | about 3 years ago | (#37587034)

Look, if he were dying, he wouldn't bother to paint 'Aaagh', he'd just say it.

Re:Art? (1)

brainproxy (654715) | about 3 years ago | (#37587184)

Maybe he was dictating it?

Re:Art? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37587040)

hahahaha its funny cuz ur a nerd

Re:Art? (1)

Gilmoure (18428) | about 3 years ago | (#37589874)

My dear sir, I am a geek; not a nerd. I have spoken to a girl and everything!

Re:Art? (1)

StikyPad (445176) | about 3 years ago | (#37592440)

Life was definitely rough before the invention of towels.

Re:Art? (3, Informative)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | about 3 years ago | (#37586734)

Some of the drawings were very high up so children had to have been lifted by adults to reach them. Moreover, there are clear designs in the patterns, and swirls and the like. They aren't just straight lines at height level. And as discussed at http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/features/prehistoric-pre-school/ [cam.ac.uk] , the children's work was mainly confined largely to a single room.

Re:Art? (2)

formfeed (703859) | about 3 years ago | (#37587268)

Some of the drawings were very high up so children had to have been lifted by adults to reach them. Moreover, there are clear designs in the patterns, and swirls and the like. [...] the children's work was mainly confined largely to a single room.

Pretty obvious. It must have been Mrs. Oogh's kindergarden art project

Re:Art? (1)

BluBrick (1924) | about 3 years ago | (#37587612)

The childrens work was confined to a single room? That room must have been a larder, where all the frozen mammoth meat was kept in times of plenty. It seems that proud parents have always put their kids' finger paintings up on the fridge.

Re:Art? (1)

Gilmoure (18428) | about 3 years ago | (#37589888)

*golf clap*

Re:Art? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37589722)

Some of the drawings were very high up so children had to have been lifted by adults to reach them.

Or the children had mastered advanced stilt technology.

Boys and girls (2)

opentunings (851734) | about 3 years ago | (#37590326)

"The researchers were also able to tell the children's genders from the shape of the fingers."

I remember a story about the famous pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock. When told that a child's gender could be determined by the shape of the skull at birth, he replied "I prefer the traditional methods..."

At a conference, paper details not online (5, Insightful)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | about 3 years ago | (#37586720)

Unfortunately, the presentation in question doesn't seem to be online. There was a presentation on this subject at a conference at Cambridge http://www.sscip.org.uk/files/SSCIP%20Annual%20Conference%202011/Programme%20Autumn%202011a.pdf [sscip.org.uk] which apparently includes a lot of other examples of artifacts made by children in cultures throughout human history. Can someone find the relevant papers online? The author of the work is Jess Cooney from Cambridge. There's a page http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/features/prehistoric-pre-school/ [cam.ac.uk] with more details but I can't find actual preprints or the like.

But there's one thing that this sort of thing really shows: science rocks. We can use clever tests and careful measurements to figure out details about the age of children painting on caves. This is exactly why science is awesome. And we're always learning more and more, developing more clever techniques, and finding out more about the universe and ourselves. We are on a long, slow, possibly never-ending journey. But that journey leads closer and closer to truth. And those children and adults long ago who struggled to survive and experimented with different ways to paint are part of that same journey that we are.

(Sorry, something about this story just gets me a bit emotional.)

Kid's scrawl (1)

tmosley (996283) | about 3 years ago | (#37586736)

I wonder if the rest of the cave paintings were done by children as well? Perhaps that is why they look so "primitive".

Re:Kid's scrawl (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37586858)

Considering some of the techniques used in the paintings, as well as the styles, I doubt that it was kids. While they may appear primitive to us, if you allow for the lack of modern tools and methods, many of the paintings are pretty sophisticated.

Much Ice Age cave painting, particularly as found at Lascaux, stand up very well as art, even by modern standards.

Re:Kid's scrawl (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37587584)

I don't know... modern art is also hard to tell apart from kids' scrawlings.

Re:Kid's scrawl (1)

Caesar Tjalbo (1010523) | about 3 years ago | (#37587602)

stand up very well as art, even by modern standards.

Art in the sense of 'a happening' then? As I understand it, in this cave they couldn't see what they were drawing and they couldn't see what they had drawn.

Re:Kid's scrawl (1)

TheLink (130905) | about 3 years ago | (#37591698)

By "Modern" standards, their rubbish/excrement pile would also be art.

I always wondered (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37586822)

I always wondered why those cave drawings looked like a bunch of kids drew it. I assumed it was because primitive man had primitive painting tools. But it seems the explanation is even simpler.

Re:I always wondered (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37587862)

They vary from crude stick figures to paintings that are far more sophisticated than most adults could produce nowadays if they would try. Some have a consistency in style and an elegance that strongly suggest the artist made a concious effort to make it look like that, and had the skills to make it succeed. Not all art is about being as realistic as possible in producing the subject's physical proportions in the painting (I don't know if that is how you look at it, but in my experience people who compare art they don't appreciate to kid's drawings usually prefer realism and don't recognise the beauty and the skill in less realistic art). And don't forget that we have adults who use simple stick figures to make forms of art we can appreciate nowadays, xkcd is one example.

The main impression I get from this is that making art was a social process everyone could participate in. A way to enjoy themselves with a result they could keep enjoying for a long time. That's pretty much the point of making art, if you ask me. Appreciation for people who are good at it, the people we call artists nowadays, follows in the same way appreciation for anything done well makes sense.

Ironic? (1)

Kaenneth (82978) | about 3 years ago | (#37586840)

I recall some article about some kids getting in trouble for putting graffitti into a cave like this (searches fail me at the moment...) with pre-historic grafitti...

I found it somewhat ironic.

Re:Ironic? (2)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | about 3 years ago | (#37586868)

You may be thinking of an incident that occurred a few years ago where kids volunteering to help clean up graffiti cleaned up cave paintings that they thought were graffiti. http://www.nytimes.com/1992/03/22/world/french-youths-clean-a-cave-and-damage-prehistoric-art.html [nytimes.com] .

Re:Ironic? (2)

Kaenneth (82978) | about 3 years ago | (#37587196)

1992... a few years ago... fuck, we're getting old.

Re:Ironic? (1)

Ogi_UnixNut (916982) | about 3 years ago | (#37588800)

Phew... and here I thought I was the only one that thought that when I saw the year... at least I'm not alone, I guess.

Either That (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | about 3 years ago | (#37586902)

Or, the caveman was a paedophile serial killer with a side interest in modern representational art...

Re:Either That (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | about 3 years ago | (#37587028)

Or, the caveman was a paedophile serial killer with a side interest in modern representational art...

Oh, so you mean just like a modern-day avant-garde artist?

Duh (1)

subk (551165) | about 3 years ago | (#37586906)

News Flash: Kids draw on walls. Gee. Who'd a thunk it?

Re:Duh (1)

adamofgreyskull (640712) | about 3 years ago | (#37587286)

Most parents don't help their kids draw on the walls. FTFA it seems that prehistoric parents did...

Some of these flutings were too steady for a toddler, suggesting that an adult guided the child's hand while teaching him or her, (...)

Re:Duh (1)

dzfoo (772245) | about 3 years ago | (#37587906)

How do you know it was their parents and not their big brother, or some random weirdo playing with the kid.

Stupid modern laws (2)

antifoidulus (807088) | about 3 years ago | (#37586928)

When I tried to use children to decorate my house the taxidermist called the cops. Stupid modern laws.

Sex vs Gender (0)

AxeMurder (1795476) | about 3 years ago | (#37586948)

I understand how we could determine biological sex of the kids that go with the finger markings but I'm not really sure how we determined gender... http://www.who.int/gender/whatisgender/en/ [who.int]

Re:Sex vs Gender (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37587120)

See, now you're just nitpicking for no reason.

Re:Sex vs Gender (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37590136)

Back then, the kids that said their spirit was in the wrong sort of body would have been put out for the wolves to eat before they had a chance to draw on the walls. So that helps narrow it down.

sex? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37587128)

The researchers were also able to tell the children's genders from the shape of the fingers.

What, vertical lines are girls' and horizontal ones are boys'?

Re:sex? (1)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | about 3 years ago | (#37589096)

The marks left behind by the girls did not include stains reminiscent of a Monica Lewinski outfit.

Re:sex? (1)

Otter Popinski (1166533) | about 3 years ago | (#37590514)

The marks left behind by the girls did not include stains reminiscent of a Monica Lewinski outfit.

Okay, first of all we're talking about 3 year olds. Second, that reference is 13 years old.

Cave drawings explained (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37587188)

So they are actually drawings of Big Bird and Miss Piggy and not wild boar and such?

Were they (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37587536)

Happy?

At least as we are? With infant mortality so high and life expectancy so low, one must have needed a stoic heart to face it all. I wonder whether they enjoyed their little lives..

Suddenly it dawns on me that the future sentient dwellers of this universe will ask the same question about us. At least they have our Twitter and Facebook to browse through.

Re:Were they (1)

aix tom (902140) | about 3 years ago | (#37588372)

So after the "Dark Ages", the "Renaissance" and the "Industrial Age" we will be known as the "Stupid Age"? ;-)

Kids from Yorkshire (1)

rossdee (243626) | about 3 years ago | (#37588080)

When I were a lad during the ice age we had to walk all the way to southwest France to go to school

And it was uphill both ways

Archeologist who specialises in children (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | about 3 years ago | (#37588156)

Concludes that children produced this archaeology.

The first rule of science is to question the obvious, appealing hypothesis.

sneaky critters (1)

balbord (447248) | about 3 years ago | (#37590612)

Yeah. My two year old girl "helps" me decorate my house once in a while, too.

As soon as... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37591484)

...we have tricorders we can reconstruct the actual children as well.

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