I'm sure that cave paintings are not on your list of fascinating subjects...nor were they on mine, before about a week ago. But Olivia had to do a unit on Early Man, and we found ourselves captivated by these very, very early (say, 10,000 to 20,000 years ago) examples of art. Really, they are art.
Like these...check it out!:
In our reading, we learned that between 25,000 and 30,000 years ago, both early modern man ("Cro-Magnons") and Neaderthals were co-existing in what is now known as the Middle East. They were living in the same ways, hunting animals and gathering foods, using the same kinds of tools, and using fire to warm themselves and for cooking. Then, as author Patricia Lauber says in her fabulous book for children, Painters of the Caves: "...a big change took place in the modern humans. It was as if an unused part of their brains had suddenly come awake. They became fully modern, in mind as well as body...The early humans became prolific inventors. They invented new tools and ways of using them...They would become painters, carvers, engravers, in a great burst of creative energy. They would make and play musical instruments made of animal bones--flutes, rattles, drums."
In short, the early moderns became creative. They made their tools better, they created hearths for their own fires, providing greater warmth and better food. They even created a needle out of bone, so that they could tailor their clothes, also providing more warmth. They invented the bow and arrow, and they learned to move with the animals through the seasons. They created better houses around their hearths and gathered there each evening...and they became artists.
We don't know why they created these stunningly sophisticated works deep in the caves of Europe and other places, high, high up on the walls. But they did, and they did it for thousands of years.
Still, you may ask, why with the cave paintings?
Because I love to think about creativity and what it means to us, as human beings, and why we find it so necessary to our lives. Animals do not. Neanderthals did not, and they died out some 5,000 years after the early moderns began to innovate. How does creativity contribute to whatever it is that makes us human? And, what is it about us that feels the need, the passion, for making sense and recording our human experience? I just wonder. These are questions, I'm afraid, that I am not qualified to answer, but I love to think about it...
As I watched the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver the other night, I was struck by this need we seemed to have to relate a passion for sport, for competition, for seeking a goal, for struggle and success (or failure) to the grander human experience. It's not just sport, is it? It has to mean something to us, and I wonder why that is. At the same time, I absolutely love it. And the cave paintings seem to be the first evidence of this in us, some need--religious, perhaps--to record and create something beautiful as evidence of our existence. It's a cry in the dark, a hand reaching out, a single soul saying, "I'm here." It's ART.
Anyhow, the girls made some cave paintings of their own, after learning about the early humans. We opened up a brown grocery bag, crumpled it to make it look a bit more like stone, broke open the pastels, and went to town:
My favorite part of all is the way they put their hand prints on them, like the early humans did (we didn't spit through a straw, though--we just traced them). It was great fun, cave-person-style!
So, I guess this is the point: above all, I want my girls to know that when life is hard, you create what you need. You innovate. You find a better way. You improve the status quo, and you survive. You look within your heart and mind and create a new path, to be happier and healthier...and you record, for us all, each tiny step.
That's it. Man, thanks for reading, sweet friends. If you were able to stick with me this far, I'm very, very grateful. Have a great one!