Are These Cave Paintings The First Animations?
Over at Nautilus, Zach Zorich illuminates how 21,000 year-old cave paintings at Lascaux may represent an early form of motion picture.
Many of the superimposed animal shapes, like the deer heads above (photo by Norbert Aujoulet), can appear to move like a flip-book when they are viewed with the dim, flickering light sources that would have been available to Paleolithic humans. Combine it with some low-light trickery on behalf of the visual system, and you’ve got cave-toons:
Physiologically, our eyes undergo a switch when we slip into darkness. In bright light, eyes primarily rely on the color-sensitive cells in our retinas called cones, but in low light the cones don’t have enough photons to work with and cells that sense black and white gradients, called rods, take over. That’s why in low light, colors fade, shadows become harder to distinguish from actual objects, and the soft boundaries between things disappear. Images straight ahead of us look out of focus, as if they were seen in our peripheral vision. The end result for early humans who viewed cave paintings by firelight might have been that a deer with multiple heads, for example, resembled a single, animated beast.
Storytelling, visual or otherwise, is simply part of what makes human.
Previously: Archaeologist Marc Azema has found similar story-paintings at Chauvet, even older than Lascaux!