Sunday, December 29, 2019

We Have Always Been Artists

I have sometimes told myself a little story of how people discovered ceramics: a grass cooking basket (this actually works as long as the fire stays below the water level), lined with clay to hold water better, catches fire maybe with some, I dunno, mammoth fat or something in it that would burn hot. Afterward the cook discovers something amazing: the lining of the basket is changed, is now solid and permanent in shape, and impervious (well, sort of) to water. (I have a similar story I tell myself about soap, involving fat, & lye-filled wood-ashes.)

Firing, of course, is only half the story of clay, and perhaps not even the large half. Before we learned to fire, we longed to form: to reify images in our minds.

Or so goes the story I tell myself. In fact, we can't know what our prehistoric ancestors were thinking, but we can see some of the things that they made, and some of those things were made of clay. 14000 years ago, in the cave of Tuc Audoubert, an artist sculpted these bison from the clay of the cave walls. They aren't fired, but the cave has protected them from the weather all these millennia, and though they have cracked - as a clay artist myself, familiar with all the technical things that can go wrong in the process - I'd be willing to bet most of those cracks happened in the lifetime of the artist. Yet they remain, the marks of the artist's hands still clearly visible. 

It is a shivery feeling, to imagine those moments of making, when an artist - just like you! - knelt on the cave floor, patting and prodding the clay into the desired shape. His or her life was so so different from yours, and yet inside, the same, in at least this one way.

This discovery was made in 1912 by three French brothers. Read more about it at this link!


Barbara Rogers said...

I think that's what captures my interest in archaeology...that we're still basically the same.

Lori Watts said...

It's fascinating to think, that was a person, just like me! What were they thinking, how did they feel?