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history of Recordings and recording—Page 2

about art and prehistory

Mankind's history is in part the story of man's evolution; it goes back at least two million years, when the first manlike creatures rose and walked the earth. All that has been learned about the people who lived throughout most of that period has been garnered from artifacts gathered and diggings analyzed by archeologists, paleontologists, and a score of other scientific disciplines. No evidence has emerged from scientific exploration to demonstrate that anyone did anything for the purpose of producing a record of man's doings until somewhere around 40,000 years ago, when mankind started producing recordings.

What happened to account for this change? About 50- to 75-thousand years ago, something strange and wonderful happened. A new species of man appeared from out of nowhere and walked the earth; although there are theories, no one knows how. He was a species of bipedal primate characterized by a brain capacity averaging 1400 cc, much larger than his predecessors, and by dependence upon language and the creation and utilization of relatively complex tools. Today we call this species Homo sapiens (rational man).

Who or what was Homo sapiens? Homo sapiens was and is usmodern man. We are that species.

Homo sapiens differs radically from his predecessors in many ways. A key difference was his greater intellect. About 40,000 years ago, a comparatively recent time on the evolutionary scale, he changed everything because of it. It was then that Homo sapiens began recording what he saw and felt on cave paintings, glyphs on rock wall outcroppings, and statuettes.

Recording in its most primitive state is old. Cave men drew pictures of animals on walls and made spatter print images of their hands with spit and charcoal; aborigines scratched glyphs on rock wall outcroppings. Sculpture and painting have been with us since well before ancient Egypt, as evinced by 32,000 year old paintings on the walls of Chauvet Cave in southern France, the Venus of Willendorf statuette (shown at the right) dating from perhaps as far back as 25-30 thousand years, cave wall drawings at Altamira in Spain dating back more than 20-thousand years, and cave wall drawings at Lascaux Cave in southern France dating back to more than 17,000 BCE. A stencil image of a human hand in Spain's El Castillo cave has been dated to 37,00 years and a red disk in the same cave has been dated to 40,800 years.

Man not only acquired an aesthetic sensibility some 40,000 years ago; in conjunction with that he gained both the ability to express the aesthetic sensations he experienced and the ability to record them. He expressed them by recording them. Where recording is concerned, it's especially fortunate that man's new, more capacious brain allowed him to both experience and express art, because recording anything would have been meaningless without it; there would have been nothing to record.

The estimated ages for some of the ancient recordings cited above are changing: they're getting older. A new technique for dating rock art sites called uranium-series disequilibrium dating, or more simply, uranium-series dating, is pushing back our current understanding of the true age of these artifacts when compared with less accurate estimates derived from traditional carbon dating techniques. Archeologists using uranium-series dating are finding that the earliest cave paintings they are now examining in Western Europe reach as far back as at least 40,800 years. When existing estimates for art in caves like Altamira and Lascaux are revised with the new technique, it's likely that these current estimates of their age will be among those elevated.

Ancient art was not only created in Europe by early humans. Aborigine paintings on rock outcroppings in Australia's Arnhem Land have been found that date as far back as 40-thousand years. Another recent finding of a cave wall stencil of a human hand in Sulawesi, Indonesia has been dated to 39,900 years ago. Drawings of animals hunted by humans have been found which date as far back as 35,400 years.

Below, a computer-enhanced 35,000-year old Sulawesi cave wall painting of a fruit-eating animal called a pig-deer.

  • See more about prehistoric art at the section of Electricka's web site titled Prehistoric Evolution Of The Story. You'll find it in the feature titled Birth Of The Novel: tap or click here

recording and the aesthetic impulse

Ancient works of art like these are the earliest evidence science has that recordings were consciously and deliberately created by mankind for the purpose of making and leaving a record of something observed, and for expressing emotions and ideas that originated internally. Thus art and recording are integral aspects of the same human impulse. The ancient art described above could not have come down to us without recording. As such, their creation marks the dawn of recording.

Notably, the men who made these earliest recordings made them about themselves and the world in which they found themselves. By leaving records in the form of art, ancient mankind added to its account of itself and its world: perceptions, thoughts, and doings. These ancient art works are all self-expressions in one way or another; and they are all art in one way or another.

There was virtually no communication between these early disparate groups of people; for the most part they lived at different places and at different times. Deliberate and purposeful recording of these primitive works of art seems to have begun spontaneously at different times and places, as when Aborigines scratched petroglyphs on rock wall outcroppings in the Australian Outback, when nomad hunter-gatherers carved statuettes like the Venus of Willendorf, and when cave men drew pictures of animals on walls and made spatter print stencil images of their hands with spit and charcoal, as they did at places like Altamira, Pech Merle, and Lascaux.

Together, ancient works like these demonstrate that the discovery and execution of art are intrinsic to human nature. If the impulse to record art were extrinsic, why would so many diverse cultural groups at displaced locations who were out of communication with each other have devised the same kinds of innovations? Why would they have used the same kinds of tools to perform, execute, and record their art? Why would they have expressed the same kinds of aesthetic perceptions?

Communication cannot account for how art and the recording of art initially got started; there wasn't any to speak of after mankind spread out of Africa throughout Europe and Asia. Art seems to have begun as a spontaneous outpouring of mankind's brand new universal intellect, as a need built into the Homo sapiens psyche to record what he sees, thinks, feels, and experiences.

Ancient artwork like this seems to confirm that man's aesthetic sensibility and his expressive ability coincided with modern mankind's original intellectual awakening in Africa, not from Europe or Asia. It illustrates that the urge to record art has perpetually played a crucial part during man's earliest times and continues to play a crucial role in modern history. Encapsulated in modern man, this urge—this aesthetic impulse—is the same one that drove artists in the time of the ancient muses; it's the same one that drives artists working today.

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