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Head of aurochs in the Lascaux caves in France. Source: bobdu11 / Adobe Stock

SCIENCE & TECH: Through Aurochs Eyes: A New Perspective on the Story of Lascaux

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They approach me in Lascaux caves on their hands and knees, one carrying a stave atop which tarred plant debris has been wound, set alight from the campfire, which itself was lit from a spark glowing in kindling held inside a hollowed out hoof. Another carries a lamp made from sandstone with a carved hollow at one end, in which tallow burns, the wick made from moss. Lamps and staves are all the illumination they have, and through their eyes it makes shadows shiver, cave walls ripple, roofs and floors disappear into depthless darkness. The caves are cold, but they wear fur garments stitched using needles made from bones, nettle cords their thread.

They know these caves because they and their ancestors have been coming here for millennia. They are bound to the land in which Lascaux sits, intimate with it, knowing it in all its seasons, alert to every sign and natural countenance, which tell them where plants and herbs may be found, where water is, and where the aurochs which they hunt might be located.

To them, everything they experience in their lives is special. Though they grasp that some aspects of their lives are dull or ordinary, every other experience – the overwhelming majority – is sacred. A boulder is not just stone; that is too pragmatic an attitude. A stone has another realm behind it, an essence, they believe, which allows them to grasp and mentally manipulate the complexities of the world. They live in a world bright with meaning. A tree for instance is not just a tree, it is a symbol of the vitality of life. I am not just an aurochs, I am a creature of fable, metaphysical yet warm with blood also. Thus the symbols of their tales and what lies behind them are one and the same.

In their lives an opposition exists: light and dark. The sun gives bright light during daytime, but the nights are as black as pitch – deep, impenetrable, ineffable. This opposition symbolises to them one of the profound verities of their lives, which they echo when they enter Lascaux. Outside, daily life continues underneath the sun: inside, darkness dominates, a spirit world underground which they must interact with. To them, a cave is not just a hollow, it is numinous with meaning, formed because of purpose, so that it must be occupied and used with ritual reverence.

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Extract from ‘I am Taurus’ by Stephen Palmer. Collective Ink Books.

Top Image: Head of aurochs in the Lascaux caves in France. Source: bobdu11 / Adobe Stock

By: Stephen Palmer

References

Palmer, S. 2024. I am Taurus. Collective Ink Books





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