DORDOGNE CAVE SHOWS CHILDREN LEARNED TO PAINT SOME 13,000 YEARS AGO
Research indicates young children expressed themselves in an ancient form of finger-painting. And, just as in modern homes, their early efforts were given pride of place on the living room wall. A Cambridge University conference on the archaeology of childhood reveals a tantalizing glimpse into life for children in the palaeolithic age, an estimated 13,000 years ago.
Archaeologists at one of the most famous prehistoric decorated caves in France, the complex of caverns at Rouffignac in the Dordogne known as the Cave of a Hundred Mammoths, have discovered that children were actively helped to express themselves through finger fluting - running fingers over soft red clay to produce decorative crisscrossing lines, zig-zags and swirls. The stunning drawings, including 158 depictions of mammoths, 28 bisons, 15 horses, 12 goats, 10 woolly rhinoceroses, four human figures and one bear, form just a small proportion of the art found within the five-mile cave system.
The majority of the drawings are flutings covering the walls and roofs of the many galleries and passages in the complex. One chamber is so rich in flutings by children it is believed to be an area set aside for them. The marks of four children, estimated to be aged between two and seven, have been identified there. "It suggests it was a special place for children. Adults were there, but the vast majority of artwork is by children," said Jess Cooney, a PhD student at the university's archaeology department.
The presence of children's art was first revealed in 2006 by archaeologists Leslie Van Gelder, of Walden University, in the US, and her husband Kevin Sharpe. Cooney, working alongside Van Gelder, has spent two years analyzing
the presence of the hunter-gatherer offspring. Flutings thought to be by a five-year-old girl are the most prolific
throughout the cave system. Work by four adults has also been identified, though it is possible there were two further adults present. The juxtaposition of the flutings of individuals indicate the relationships between the cave dwellers, the researchers say. For example, the markings show that one seven-year-old girl was most often in the company of the smallest of the adults, probably a male and possibly an older brother.
"Some of the children's flutings are high up on walls and on the ceilings, so they must have been held up to make them or have been sitting on someone's shoulders," said Cooney. Flutings by the two-year-old suggest the child's hand was guided by an adult. Cooney said: "The flutings and fingers are very controlled, which is highly unusual for a child of that age, and suggests it was being taught. The research shows us that children were everywhere, even in the deepest, darkest, caves, furthest from the entrance. They were so involved in the art you really begin to question how heavily they were involved in everyday life. Cooney said the object of her research was "to allow prehistoric children to
have a voice", because so much archaeological study focused on men's activities.
"What I found in Rouffignac is that the children are screaming from the walls to be heard. Their presence is everywhere. And there is a five-year-old girl constantly shouting: 'I wanna paint, I wanna paint'."