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Children Helped Decorate Prehistoric Caves of France 72

Posted by timothy
from the could've-been-circus-folk dept.
sciencehabit writes "Among the prolific paintings and other art in the 8 kilometer-long Rouffignac cave system in southwestern France are a number of unusual markings known as finger flutings, which are made by people dragging their hands through the soft silt that lines the cave's walls. By analyzing the finger flutings of modern humans, researchers discovered that the ratio of the distance between the three middle fingers indicate that many of the cave artists were very young children, one as young as 2 or 3 years old. The researchers were also able to tell the children's genders from the shape of the fingers."
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Children Helped Decorate Prehistoric Caves of France

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  • So this sounds just like my oldest (3 years) he is always dragging his fingers across the walls. I guess kids never really change.
    • I'm 34... and still do that. It's not something I do consciously.
    • No. He's marking the walls to get your attention because you spend too much time posting on Slashdot instead of raising your progeny. Now get back to your guilt trip!

  • by ridgecritter (934252) on Sunday October 02, 2011 @08:46PM (#37586688)

    "Most preschoolers get scolded for writing on walls, but kids living 13,000 years ago were encouraged to scribble, at least in caves. Among the prolific paintings and other art in the 8 kilometer-long Rouffignac cave system in southwestern France are a number of unusual markings known as finger flutings, which are made by people dragging their hands through the soft silt that lines the cave's walls. By analyzing the finger flutings of modern humans, researchers discovered that the ratio of the distance between the three middle fingers indicate that many of the cave artists were very young children, one as young as 2 or 3 years old. The researchers were also able to tell the children's genders from the shape of the fingers. Some of these flutings were too steady for a toddler, suggesting that an adult guided the child's hand while teaching him or her, the researchers will report this weekend at the archaeology of childhood conference in Cambridge, U.K. Since the children's drawings seemed to be concentrated in one chamber, the researchers believe that the alcove may have been a sort of art school. And some of the drawings were high on the walls and on the ceiling, suggesting that the children were lifted."

    Very cool. I love how we can open windows onto our ancestors' lives through a bunch of boring measurements of finger tracks on a dusty cave wall.

    • by JustOK (667959)

      there's probably pre-historic boogers mixed in.

    • by billstewart (78916) on Sunday October 02, 2011 @10:35PM (#37587052) Journal

      My mom still has one of those plaster castings of a handprint one of us did in kindergarten sitting in one of her cabinets. I'm not sure we know who, unless the teacher wrote our name on the back :-)

      Meanwhile, if you ever get another chance to see the movie Cave of Forgotten Dreams [imdb.com] in 3D, absolutely go see it. Werner Herzog took a camera crew into the oldest known painted cave in France for a couple of days, and it really did need to be filmed in 3D.

      • by RockDoctor (15477)

        Meanwhile, if you ever get another chance to see the movie Cave of Forgotten Dreams in 3D,

        Unfortunately the only cinema within 300 miles that showed it ... doesn't have any 3D facilities. There's a possibility that it'll appear at the local Imax theatre one day (though the cave would not permit the entry of Imax cameras), which would be worth the 400-mile round trip to see it. I'd have to get the bus though - I doubt that I'd want to drive with the post-3D headache.

        But, having seen the 2D version ... I th

    • "Most preschoolers get scolded for writing on walls, but kids living 13,000 years ago were encouraged to scribble, at least in caves."

      Uhm... How do they know that those children didn't get scolded for it too?

      • "This why we not have nice things"
        • Hmmm ... star wars ... or prehistoric humans ?

          When will slashdot start supporting the philosoraptor in replies?

      • by JustNilt (984644)

        "Most preschoolers get scolded for writing on walls, but kids living 13,000 years ago were encouraged to scribble, at least in caves."

        Uhm... How do they know that those children didn't get scolded for it too?

        Last line of the linked article reads, " And some of the drawings were high on the walls and on the ceiling, suggesting that the children were lifted." I'm reasonably sure that's how they know. I suppose an argument could be made that it was their teenage siblings holding them up but back then by that age the teens would have been the parents of other 2 or 3 year olds.

        • by RockDoctor (15477)

          "Most preschoolers get scolded for writing on walls, but kids living 13,000 years ago were encouraged to scribble, at least in caves."

          Uhm... How do they know that those children didn't get scolded for it too?

          Last line of the linked article reads, " And some of the drawings were high on the walls and on the ceiling, suggesting that the children were lifted."

          ... however, concerning paintings done in comparably-dated caves, the location of some of the paintings practically requires the painters to have erec

    • You call that art? My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother could do that!

  • by Culture20 (968837) on Sunday October 02, 2011 @08:53PM (#37586714)
    How are we sure it's not just people dragging their fingers along the wall to navigate in the dark?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Scutter (18425)

      How are we sure it's not just people dragging their fingers along the wall to navigate in the dark?

      Or people trying desperately to find something to grab onto as some unspeakable horror dragged them into the depths of the cave by their ankles?

    • Re:Art? (Score:4, Informative)

      by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Sunday October 02, 2011 @08:58PM (#37586734) Homepage
      Some of the drawings were very high up so children had to have been lifted by adults to reach them. Moreover, there are clear designs in the patterns, and swirls and the like. They aren't just straight lines at height level. And as discussed at http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/features/prehistoric-pre-school/ [cam.ac.uk], the children's work was mainly confined largely to a single room.
      • by formfeed (703859)

        Some of the drawings were very high up so children had to have been lifted by adults to reach them. Moreover, there are clear designs in the patterns, and swirls and the like. [...] the children's work was mainly confined largely to a single room.

        Pretty obvious. It must have been Mrs. Oogh's kindergarden art project

      • by BluBrick (1924)
        The childrens work was confined to a single room? That room must have been a larder, where all the frozen mammoth meat was kept in times of plenty. It seems that proud parents have always put their kids' finger paintings up on the fridge.
    • "The researchers were also able to tell the children's genders from the shape of the fingers."

      I remember a story about the famous pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock. When told that a child's gender could be determined by the shape of the skull at birth, he replied "I prefer the traditional methods..."

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Sunday October 02, 2011 @08:55PM (#37586720) Homepage

    Unfortunately, the presentation in question doesn't seem to be online. There was a presentation on this subject at a conference at Cambridge http://www.sscip.org.uk/files/SSCIP%20Annual%20Conference%202011/Programme%20Autumn%202011a.pdf [sscip.org.uk] which apparently includes a lot of other examples of artifacts made by children in cultures throughout human history. Can someone find the relevant papers online? The author of the work is Jess Cooney from Cambridge. There's a page http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/features/prehistoric-pre-school/ [cam.ac.uk] with more details but I can't find actual preprints or the like.

    But there's one thing that this sort of thing really shows: science rocks. We can use clever tests and careful measurements to figure out details about the age of children painting on caves. This is exactly why science is awesome. And we're always learning more and more, developing more clever techniques, and finding out more about the universe and ourselves. We are on a long, slow, possibly never-ending journey. But that journey leads closer and closer to truth. And those children and adults long ago who struggled to survive and experimented with different ways to paint are part of that same journey that we are.

    (Sorry, something about this story just gets me a bit emotional.)

  • I wonder if the rest of the cave paintings were done by children as well? Perhaps that is why they look so "primitive".
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I always wondered why those cave drawings looked like a bunch of kids drew it. I assumed it was because primitive man had primitive painting tools. But it seems the explanation is even simpler.
  • I recall some article about some kids getting in trouble for putting graffitti into a cave like this (searches fail me at the moment...) with pre-historic grafitti...

    I found it somewhat ironic.

  • Or, the caveman was a paedophile serial killer with a side interest in modern representational art...
    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Or, the caveman was a paedophile serial killer with a side interest in modern representational art...

      Oh, so you mean just like a modern-day avant-garde artist?

  • by subk (551165)
    News Flash: Kids draw on walls. Gee. Who'd a thunk it?
    • Most parents don't help their kids draw on the walls. FTFA it seems that prehistoric parents did...

      Some of these flutings were too steady for a toddler, suggesting that an adult guided the child's hand while teaching him or her, (...)

      • by dzfoo (772245)

        How do you know it was their parents and not their big brother, or some random weirdo playing with the kid.

  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Sunday October 02, 2011 @10:04PM (#37586928) Homepage Journal
    When I tried to use children to decorate my house the taxidermist called the cops. Stupid modern laws.
  • When I were a lad during the ice age we had to walk all the way to southwest France to go to school

    And it was uphill both ways

  • Concludes that children produced this archaeology.

    The first rule of science is to question the obvious, appealing hypothesis.

  • Yeah. My two year old girl "helps" me decorate my house once in a while, too.

Let's organize this thing and take all the fun out of it.

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