Cave Drawings Of Animals Are Surprisingly Accurate

Cave Caveman Drawing Art Prehistoric India Paintings rock

Photo: AP Photo/Prakash Hatvalne

They may not have understood why, but cavemen were really good at drawing animals, new research suggests. Better than us modern humans are today.By analysing 1000 prehistoric and modern art depictions of four legged animals, researchers found have found that ancient humans drew the way that animals move better than modern humans do, according to a new study in the journal PLOS ONE.

In the 1880’s Eadweard Muybridge characterised the walking patterns of four legged animals. Most four-legged animals walk first with their left hind foot, then their left front foot, right hind foot, and right front foot. This sequence provides the maximum stability for four legged animals.

Gabor Horvath and colleagues at Eotvos University in Hungary set out to find if they could see this movement pattern in drawings of four legged animals by looking for correct limb position. For example, here is drawing of a bull taken from a French Cave Lascaux that shows the correct way a four legged animal walks:

bull prehistoric drawingL/R means left and right, H/F means hind and fore.

Photo: Horvath G, Farkas E, Boncz I, Blaho M, Kriska G (2012) Cavemen Were Better at Depicting Quadruped Walking than Modern Artists: Erroneous Walking Illustrations in the Fine Arts from Prehistory to Today. PLoS ONE 7(12): e49786. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049786

They found that the art from ancient humans had the lowest error rate (46.2 per cent). Modern art before Muybridge had an error rate of 83.5 per cent, and after the work of Muybridge the error rate decreased to 57.9 per cent.

Even Leonardo da Vinci made mistakes when drawing a horse. A is da Vinci’s incorrect drawing, B is a line reproduction of the horse, and C and D show the correct image.

Leonardo da Vinci Horse drawn incorrectlyA is da Vinci’s incorrect drawing, B is a line reproduction of the horse, and C and D show two possible correct images.

Photo: Horvath G, Farkas E, Boncz I, Blaho M, Kriska G (2012) Cavemen Were Better at Depicting Quadruped Walking than Modern Artists: Erroneous Walking Illustrations in the Fine Arts from Prehistory to Today. PLoS ONE 7(12): e49786. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049786

Ancient humans spent more time out hunting, so they probably had tons of time to observed the movement of animals, enabling them to frequently depict it correctly, the researchers said. The researchers don’t know if later errors were due to artistic licence or a lack of understanding.

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