Thursday 18 December 2014

Cave art animals 'more accurate'

Published 05/12/2012 | 22:34

Prehistoric illustration of an elephant from the Tadrart Acacus cave in Libya (Gabor Horvath/PLoS ONE/PA)

You could call it primitive art - but stone age man knew what he was doing when he daubed figures of animals on cave walls.

In fact, many modern artists could learn a lesson or two from their ancient forbears who lived up to 30,000 years ago, scientists claim.

The lifelike images found at sites such as the famous Lascaux Cave in south-west France are said to demonstrate an ability to depict animal movement superior to that seen today.

Researchers in Hungary examined prehistoric and modern artworks of paintings and statues of animals including horses, bulls and elephants. They found that the majority of depictions of animals walking or trotting had the legs wrongly positioned.

However, prehistoric paintings had the lowest error rate of 46.2%. In contrast, modern era artworks of animals in motion prior to the late 19th century were incorrect 83.5% of the time.

Even Leonardo da Vinci, famous for his anatomical drawings, got it wrong when he tried to portray animal movement.

After the pioneering work of Eadweard Muybridge, who made the first detailed studies of animal gait in the 1880s, the error rate decreased to 57.9%. But even then, pictures of moving animals could not match those of the cavemen for accuracy.

The research, led by Dr Gabor Horvath from Eotvos University in Budapest, appears in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE.

In their paper the scientists wrote: "Cavemen were more keenly aware of the slower motion of their prey animals and illustrated quadruped walking more precisely than later artists."

The Lauscaux Cave in the Vezere Valley of France's Dordogne region contains nearly 2,000 figures of animals, human figures and abstract signs painted onto the walls with mineral pigments. They include more than 300 pictures of horses, 90 paintings of stags, cattle, bison, cats, a bird, a bear and a rhinoceros. Among the most most famous images are four huge black bulls, or aurochs, one of which is 17ft long.

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