I’ve always been fascinated by prehistoric cave paintings. Among other things they’re proof that the artistic impulse is a core part of our humanity. People have always decorated things, always made things. Toolmaking isn’t unique to humans but paintings and other forms of decoration aren’t tools. They serve a deeper, more opaque function. And the record for the oldest work of art just keeps getting broken. Two years ago archaeologists in Indonesia found cave paintings dating back about 40,000 years. Now, also in Indonesia, they’ve found a painting of a warty pig that dates back about 45,000 years, and the stylized nature of the painting suggest the artist might have been practicing and refining a style for some time, or had learned techniques from older artists.
And keep in mind that Homo sapiens had been around a while—we first appeared less than 200,000 years ago and current thinking is that we only reached Indonesia 73,000 years ago, and humans had probably been creating art for a long time before that.
The discovery reminded me of a review I read of the book KINDRED: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art by Rebecca Wragg Sykes. We don’t really know why the Neanderthals went extinct–although humans may have had something to do with it, but the evidence suggests groups of Neanderthals didn’t work well together while groups of humans, referred to as Sapiens, did.
There is much more evidence for long-distance trade among Sapiens, and spectacular burials like the 32,000-year-old Sunghir graves clearly reflect the combined effort of more than one band…While individual Neanderthals were perhaps as inquisitive, imaginative and creative as individual Sapiens, superior networking enabled Sapiens to swiftly outcompete Neanderthals.
The reviewer admits that this is just speculation, but it is something to consider, especially now. I’m not saying we should just let go of things in the spirit of cooperation, as much as some who are responsible for inciting violence would like that since it would absolve them of responsibility. It’s because cooperation is so important to our survival that trying to undermine society, especially a democratic society, is treated as a serious crime. Cooperation is something that’s part of the past, present, and the only way there can be a future.