The Fascinating Story of Humanity

Palaeolithic art has a particular appeal to it. We, (post)modern human beings recognise the fact that something is being communicated to us. But time has swallowed the message our ancestors tried to convey.

Wentzel van Huyssteen described this in his book “Alone in the World?”, showing at the same time the power of drawings, like these 20000 year old handprints, to suggest a meaning of their own, independent of the intent of the original artists. This ancient art only suggests meaning, it doesn't impose meaning upon us. It's a matter of a new and gentle relation between the old images and a new generation of viewers.

There's also a challenge in this art. There is no way to know for certain what it means. Was marking hands on a cave wall part of a religious rite, a social identity marker, an initiation rite or just something fun to do? Theories abound, no definitive conclusion can be made. Of course the same can be said of modern, present day art. That's just the important point: cultural meaning is not static. Even when the original intention of the creator of a cultural artefact has been forgotten, lost in the wrinkles of history, new meaning – no less real than the original one – can arise. That's the fascinating story of humanity: the constant weaving and unraveling of meaning.

 

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