Why Were Cave Paintings Made?

Cave art may have served aesthetic purposes, much like modern art, or communicated information such as philosophical or religious beliefs. Reasons for the creation of cave art fall into several theories, including the theories of shamanism, sympathetic magic and fertility. Regardless of theory, however, historians agree that cave art demonstrates a complexity of thought and manual dexterity unique to humans, say authors at the BBC.

Cave art dates back nearly 40,000 years. Initially, historians believed cave art originated in western Europe, but now see evidence of its emergence in Indonesia.

Although artists may have created cave art for different purposes, the pictures remain nearly the same worldwide. Cave art features humans, gods and animals. Pictures showing animals may promote the sympathetic magic theory, which asserts that early humans drew hunting animals on cave walls to control or guide the actions of real animals. The systematic theory describes animals assuming certain sizes and positions in society, indicating religious or philosophical undertones. The shamanistic approach stipulates that the images of animal gods on walls represented the excise of evil spirits. Other historians say cave art expressed erotic desires of men, indicated by suggestive drawings of female figures. Lastly, some historians believe exotic shapes and patterns on some walls indicates artists’ use of hallucinogenic substances to produce artwork.