An archaeological team from the University of Cambridge discovered cave paintings in the northern parts of Spain, Cantabria, that suggest prehistoric humans battled against their own inner demons, fears, and insecurities that bothered them as they struggled with life’s demands during the Paleolithic era.
The images found on the limestone walls and ceiling of the cave trace back to 14,000 B.C. and seem to indicate that early hunter-gatherers were often anxious about their ability to kill game animals, reeled from the challenges of raising a family.
While these pictographs are crude in terms of their rendering of human anatomy, they have a vivid expressive quality that led the archaeological team to surmise that Ice Age humans had an awful lot of personal stuff going on.
Some of the images in the cave include a downcast man apparently being mocked by potential mates for his inability to start a fire, a woman using a stone chopping implement to cut her own body, and a seated man seemingly resigned to his fate at the approach of a charging mastodon. Further chemical analysis will have to be conducted to determine if the ominous red handprints along the walls were symbolic works rendered in red ochre or simply the result of anguished early humans striking the stone surface until they started to bleed.
Remarkably, with just a few basic pigments and the most primitive painting tools, our ancestors could so intensely portray their dread of dying alone or their toxic jealously of alpha males. Only a highly skilled but extremely alienated artist could use nothing but melted animal fat blown through a hollow bone to convey his dismay at having no one he could consider a close friend and realizing he was too old to make new ones. It’s clear that these humans felt so disconnected from one another, so unable to constructively address their problems, that they used these sad, disturbing paintings as their sole outlet for comfort.
The paintings not only represent the ability of Late Stone Age humans to express their immediate emotional torment but perhaps also to construct larger, more elaborate narratives of their prolonged, agonizing downward spirals. Through paint-application analysis and radiocarbon dating methods, Reddy said his team was able to determine that individual artists sometimes depicted their unraveling over a series of months or even years.
Some figures indicate people gorging on bison and growing more and more obese, apparently stuck in a lengthy cycle of compulsive overeating. The self-destructive pattern was broken only once by an extremely brief sequence of dynamic images suspected to be a quickly abandoned attempt at aerobic activity. The drawings finally stop after about 20 meters with a half-finished pictograph of what we speculate is the poor man attempting and failing to fit into his deer-hide frock and pants and then, out of apparent shame, opting not to leave his cave all day.
The discovery of the images comes just weeks after archaeologists uncovered a separate set of cave paintings in southern France, whose artists reportedly hunted, reared children, and otherwise did the best they could without taking themselves so seriously.