Teenage graffiti as cave art

I’ve always had an interest in archaeology. Indeed, one of the elective courses that I most enjoyed in college was a prehistoric archaeology course. All of this shows why the following interests me.

Through a scientific analysis of ancient cave art, it’s been found that human nature hasn’t changed much in 35,000 years:

Many art historians and anthropologists believe Paleolithic cave wall art was done by accomplished shaman-artists, but mixed in with the finer paintings are graffiti-like scenes of sex and hunting.

An analysis of thousands of paintings from the late Pleistocene epoch suggests the graffiti artists back then were likely the same as today–teenage males.

Most cave art from 10,000 to 35,000 years ago was done by hand, quite literally. Artists would chew up a bit of red ocher, place their hand against a wall, and spit over their hand.

“It was like kids taking a pencil and drawing an outline around their hand,” said Dale Guthrie, a paleobiologist from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Men and women have different hand proportions–men have thicker thumbs and palms–so by analyzing the dimensions of the hands in European cave art, and comparing them to 1,000 photocopies of modern hands of men and women of different ages, Guthrie determined just who painted what.

Men and women and boys and girls of all ages left their marks but, statistically, teenage males dominated, contrary to popular belief.

Most of the paintings are of large game, such as bison, horse, ibex, and red deer. Cave bears and lions, which would have inspired fear, were also depicted.

Many of the hunting scenes, although sloppily done compared to the fine, finished work of an adult artist back then, are full of graphic detail.

“Lots of the wild animals in the caves have spears in them and blood coming out of their mouths and everything that a hunter would be familiar with,” Guthrie told LiveScience. “These were the Ferraris and football games of their time. They painted what was on their minds.”

And as with modern teenagers, the ancients had more on their minds than just cars and sports.

“In the graffiti, there is a lot of below-the-belt-art,” Guthrie said. “The people in the art are predominantly women, and not a single one has any clothes on.”

But these weren’t just any women, they were Pleistocene Pamela Andersons adorned with ludicrously huge breasts and hips. The walls were also decorated with graphic depictions of genitalia.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.