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Published:September 2nd, 2014 15:12 EST
Is An Abstract Wall Carving Discovered in Gorham`s Cave (Gibraltar) a First Example of 'Modern Art?'

Is An Abstract Wall Carving Discovered in Gorham`s Cave (Gibraltar) a First Example of 'Modern Art?'

By John G. Kays

A recent discovery (July of 2012) of an abstract wall carving (dating back in time 40,000 years), in a grotto known as Gorham`s Cave, which is located on the Mediterranean island of Gibraltar (still run by the British), is garnering a great deal of press coverage, and stimulating considerable thought and discussion in scientific circles (that would be the discipline of cultural anthropology, I suppose)

My education is more solid in Art or Art History, so I fathom, what I am able to bring to the discussion may (or certainly does) have its limits; okay, so I can chalk-up one introductory Physical Anthropology class at the University of Texas (1972). 

Still I wonder why, when reading so many terrific news stories (including National Geographic, BBC, the Guardian, and DW), nobody mentioned this simple, geometrically-leaning wall carving has considerable similarities with a Tick-Tack-To Board. I`ll buy into the commonality shared with theTwitter Hashtag symbol # also, but of course, they didn`t have the internet 40,000 years ago, much less Social Media.

The Cloud was just whatever secluded cave they (the articles I read ascribed this work to a Neanderthal, as opposed to a Human Being) could find, which also acted as their storage space and God Only Knows what other functions (such as religion, administrative, building, hunting, procreation, and hey, maybe even Art)! 

Naturally, the abstract doodle or stone drawing (on hard dolomite rock) may have performed across several of these categories, which tend to be characteristics of an organized culture or society (don`t know about calling it a Civilization); this may be a wee bit of an extension to grant Neanderthal Man, since it was nearly 40,000 years (Through The Looking Glass) in the rearview mirror (I can`t even wrap my head around that much time-imagining the Ancient Egyptians or even the Ancient Hebrews is, perhaps, more time than I`m able to visualize in my mind)

But as I read the tea leaves, experts in this field are undermining the Primitivism of Neanderthal, and in its stead propping him up with attributes once solely ascribed to Modern Man (they`re even extending the length of time the two specimens lived on the earth, side by side). I recently watched the entire Planet of the Apes series, so this is okay by me.

Do you like my abstract doodles, a lovely string of words that probably won`t be read by any reputable, practicing anthropologists? So who is/was the Artist? I guess he`s dead now; boy, you`re finally famous! Is this the first example of Modern Art? I feel comfortable with this theory.

Each line (there are 6 lines all together, I believe) took the Artist 54 back-breaking strokes, using a sharp stone tool; a DB piece says this adds up to 317, but I get 324 (6x54), so I guess one of the strokes was shorter. Literally speaking, this looks a little different than a traditional Tick-Tack-To-Board. What does it mean, or what did these Cave Men use it for? 

Is it too great of a leap of faith to think that they merely admired it while they were going down on their rations (vittles), like we`ll often do with a tasteless Velvet Elvis canvass? Did it have an administrative function or a business purpose (accounting, say), possibly? 

What about the idea it was just a one off, a pointless, fanciful exercise of the Artist, where he/she could release some angst or tension that had a grip over him? Once he`d completed it, other tribesmen started to groove on it and began to see ways it would benefit fellow tribesmen; isn`t this what the gigantic Obelisk was all about in 2001 A Space Odyssey?