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'Cave Art' by Jean Clottes -- an inspiration for Jean Auel and Werner Herzog?

March 25, 2011 | 11:25 am


After browsing through French prehistorian Jean Clottes' "Cave Art," one might wonder if Jean Auel referred to his book (the hardcover published in 2008) of cave paintings as a source for "The Land of the Painted Caves," which has just recently published.

"Cave Art" is an ideal companion guide to Auel's final installment of her Earth's Children series which finds her hero Ayla visiting a multitude of caves throughout the 700-plus-page tome.

Auel's detailed descriptions of bison, aurochs, ibex and horses are brought to life in Clottes' book, comprised of 275 color photographs of works from the Palaeolithic Period, created between 35,000 and 11,000 years ago.

Photographs of cave drawings, rock engravings, hand stencils, ivory and terra cotta sculptures and figurines, and animal bones preserved in calcite were taken from 85 caves and rock shelters mainly in France, Spain, Italy and Germany. Artworks from locations as far away as Norway, Australia and Argentina are also included. 

See a photo gallery of cave paintings from "Cave Art."

The book is divided into three artistic areas centered around emblematic caves in France: Chauvet, Lascaux and Niaux.

One section is devoted to Solutrean Art, a rare type of flint workmanship which involved sculpture and engraving into rocks and incised stone slabs. (In Auel's book, Ayla's mate Jondalar is a fictional skilled flint knapper).

After the jump: more about the book, plus a clip from Werner Herzog's upcoming cave art film.

When humans are represented, many appear childlike or out of proportion. Clottes points out that this may say more about cultural taboos than about artistic abilities.

Although Clottes, who lectured at UC Berkeley, is also known for a controversial theory of the psychological and social context in which prehistoric cave art was created (he associated it with spirits and shamanic trances -- a theme which Auel loosely explores in her book) "Cave Art" is an accessible and extensive introduction to the history of cave art that delves into the mystery of the world's first artists.

Along with the photos and text, also included are detailed maps, a chronology, a glossary of terms and a list of sites open to the public.

One cave that is under high security 24 hours a day is the Chauvet Cave in southern France, which was discovered in 1994. Filmmaker Werner Herzog was granted exclusive access to the cave to direct his recent documentary, "Cave of the Forgotten Dreams," in which Clottes makes a cameo appearance.  The documentary, which opened in theaters on Friday in Britain, was shot in 3D, bringing viewers inside the famous cave and one step closer to actually being there.

A clip from the documentary is below.

-- Liesl Bradner

Image: One of the so-called Chinese horses in Lascaux Cave, Montignac, Dordogne, France. Solutrean/Upper Magdalenian. From the book "Cave Art" by Jean Clottes. Photographer: Krause & Johansen. Credit: Phaidon