Time and Vision


Upper Palaeolithic art is probably the most extensively studied and best known area of archaeology, from both a public and an academic standpoint. However, the majority of the public will still labour under the misapprehension that Upper Palaeolithic cave art only exists in Europe (Bahn and Vertut 1988:26). Admittedly, Europe is home to a vast majority of the parietal art, but this situation is gradually changing with finds in rock-shelters and caves in other parts of the world. Other countries produce figurative cave art in a different form, cultural differences necessitate it. The faunal array will alter from country to country, therefore any record of it will also vary. This study is concerned primarily with non-figurative representations. However, it is the figurative representations which I feel give the best visual insight into our past. In my view, the figurative art is the photograph, and the non-figurative is the writing, metaphorically speaking, which at present remains undeciphered. There is no intention here to indicate a belief that entoptics are some form of writing as such. It was not until I saw a tracing of the engraved face of a bearded man from La Marche, that any form of context and heritage became clear see Figure 3 below (after Bahn and Vertut, 1988:136, fig. 93).

Before my catalogue of the predominantly non-figurative representations, it is necessary to provide a glimpse at the context in which they are found, both in Europe and the rest of the world.


Mobile and Parietal art both occur in European contexts. However, to date only a handful of sites are known where they occur together. Mobile art has been found from the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa to Siberia, main clusters occurring in Central and Eastern Europe. Occasionally finds from the fringes of Europe occur, such as the few engraved bones from England or the engraving from the Aurignacian site of Hayonim Cave in Israel (Belfer-Cohen and Bar-Yosef 1981:35). The distribution of mobile art in Europe is irregular, some sites having no examples, some only a few, and others having hundreds (e.g. Parpalli, in eastern Spain: Bahn and Vertut 1988:33).

The distribution of Parietal art is different from that of mobile art. However, where clusters of mobile art occurred in Central and Eastern Europe, an abundance of cave art occurs in the Périgord, the French Pyrenees and Cantabrian Spain (Bahn and Vertut 1988:35). Their distribution stretches from Portugal and southern Spain to the north of France. Eastern France does not have cave art, except along the Mediterranean through Sicily and Italy to the former western Yugoslavia and Romania (Bahn and Vertut 1988:35).


i. The New World

The art of the New World is not nearly as well documented or dated as compared to the art of Europe. According to Bahn and Vertut (1988:26) the first piece of New World Pleistocene art was found in 1870. It was badly published, and in 1895 it was misplaced, only being rediscovered in 1956. As a consequence, it is rarely mentioned in the literature on the subject. Originally found at Tequixquiaq, in the northern part of the central basin of Mexico, it was a bone from the lower spine of an extinct form of camelid and was carved and engraved to represent a pig- or dog-like animal. It is thought to be at least 11,000 or 12,000 years old (Aveleyra 1965; Messmacher 1981). Other examples of mobile art include: a Pleistocene bone engraved with a rhinoceros from Jacob's Cave, Missouri (Messmacher 1981); and a fossil shell pendant engraved with a mammoth from Holly Oak, Delaware (Anati 1986).

Examples of Parietal art from the New World occur in many areas, though it is difficult to date. It is thought that decorated caves and rock-shelters, for example in southern Peru and Patagonia, may date back to the Pleistocene, though there is little proof (Bahn and Vertut 1988:26-27). A painted fragment from the rock-shelter of Pedra Furada in Brazil, has been dated to 17,000 years ago (Bahn and Vertut 1988:27).

ii. Africa

Mobile art featuring such animals as black rhino and possibly zebras occurred in Apollo 11 cave in Namibia, South-West Africa. These stones were found in association with charcoal which has been dated to between 19,000 and 26,000 years old (Wendt 1974, 1976). Border Cave in Kwazulu has yielded engraved bone and wood dated between 35,000 and 37,500 years old (Butzer et al 1979); and a 20,000 year old incised stone was found at Matupi Cave, Zaire (Van Noten 1977).

It is thought that some of the rock-shelters in Africa are Late Pleistocene in date, despite the difficulties of dating. In Zimbabwe, fragments of painted stone have been found, which are known to be from layers dated to between 13,000 and 40,000 years old, and according to Bahn and Vertut, pigment has been in use for at least 125,000 years (Walker 1987, Muzzolini 1986).

iii. Arabia and India

Claims of 14,000 years have been put forward for rock-art in central Arabia, based on faunal depictions. Bhimbetka, near Bhopal, in India is the home to hundreds of rock-shelters and caves containing parietal art. It is thought that these paintings span a long period, beginning in the Upper Palaeolithic. Engraved ostrich shells have been excavated from layers here, and have been dated to between 25,000 and 40,000 years old (Kumar et al, 1988; Wakankar, 1984, 1985; Anati, 1986, as cited by Bahn and Vertut 1988:27).

iv. The Far East

Neither China nor Korea have yielded any firm evidence for Palaeolithic art. However, Japan has produced engraved pebbles from the cave of Kamikyroiw 7a. Several of these pebbles, known as 'Venus' pebbles, were located in layer IX (Initial Jomon) which has been dated at 12,165 years old (Aikens and Higuchi 1982).

v. Australia

It is Australia where the majority of non-European rock-art is located. 'Digital flutings' similar to those found in European contexts, have been found at Koonalda Cave in southern Australia, appearing to be associated with the extraction of flint, and found in total darkness, hundreds of metres inside the cave. Mining activity at this site appears to have been underway between 15,000 and 24,000 years ago. Similar finger flutings have been found at Snowy River Cave in Victoria, and are dated to about 20,000 years old (Bahn and Vertut 1988:28). However, it was at Early Man shelter in Queensland where the validation for the theory of the antiquity of such engravings came. Engravings of circles, grids and intertwined lines covered the back wall, and disappeared into the archaeological layer. This layer was subsequently dated to 13,000 years, and it follows that the engravings which lay in part beneath it were at least as old. Similar engravings to these have been found in Tasmania, which are believed by some to be older that 12,000 years, which was the period when Tasmania separated from Australia. Deep inside Ballawine Cave in the Maxwell Valley, SW Tasmania, red hand stencils were found. The other archaeological material, in association with that from other sites in the region, place a possible date of 14,000 years on these stencils. A year after the discovery of Ballawine Cave, similar hand stencils were found at Judd's Cavern in Tasmania (Bahn and Vertut 1988:29).

Further Australian examples include the rock-art and ochre 'pencils' from Arnhem land in northern Australia which have been dated to 18,000 and 19,000 years old.

Mobile art from this period is at present scarce. Devil's Lair in western Australia has yielded three perforated stone beads, found in a layer 12,000-15,000 years old, in association with a possible stone pendant, and some slabs of engraved stone (Bahn and Vertut 1988:29).

According to Bahn and Vertut (1988:30) a whole new series of decorated caves has been discovered in South Australia, near Mount Gambier. Up until 1988, when this information was published, 22 out of the 140 caves examined contained non-figurative marks made by humans on the walls and ceilings. This represents one of the largest concentrations of non-fig Zurative art in the world (Bahn and Vertut 1988:31).


The initial aim of this chapter was to represent the many images found in Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic contexts which conform to Lewis-Williams and Dowson's (1988) six entoptic forms. However, no matter how great this body of evidence may be, there is still a significant amount of forms which do not meet the criteria for being entoptics. These anomalous forms may represent images from the second of Lewis-Williams and Dowson's phases which is iconic, but this is debatable, and readers must draw their own conclusions. The next five sections concentrate on general entoptic forms from the Stone Age, specifically Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, and contemporary/historic images from around the world:

Copyright © 1995, Suzanne Carr. All Rights Reserved.



Introduction | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Appendix | Bibliography