Cave art as "postcards of nostalgia"

Clayton [Eshleman] … sensed that the cave art did much more than invoke the magic of the hunt. He beings, he suggested, were at one time of an animal nature, and then at some point, whether we want to admit it or not, were not. The art pays homage to that moment when human beings, through consciousness, separated themselves from the animal realm, emerging as the unique entity that we know ourselves to be. Viewed in this light the art may be seen — as Clayton has written — almost as “postcards of nostalgia,” laments for a lost time when animals and people were as one. Proto-shamanism, the first great spiritual impulse, grew as an attempt to reconcile and even reestablish through ritual a separation that was irrevocable. What is perhaps most remarkable is the fact that the fundamentals of Upper Paleolithic art remained essentially unchanged for literally 20,000 years, five times the chronological distance that separates us today from the builders of the Great Pyramid at Giza. If these were postcards of nostalgia, ours was a very long farewell indeed.

The cave art marked also the beginning of our discontent, the restless quest for meaning and understan ding that has propelled the human dream ever since. Our entire existential experience as a species over the past 50,000 years may be distilled into two words: how and why. These are the departure points for all inquiry, the slivers of insight around which cultures have crystallized.

Wade Davis, The Wayfinders, pp. 30-31


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