Looking at caves from the bottom-up: a visual and contextual analysis of four Paleolithic painted caves in southwest France (Dordogne)




Villeneuve, Suzanne Natascha

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A century of hypotheses concerning Paleotlithic cave use has focused either on individual activities (such as vision quests or shamanistic visits) or group activities such as initiations. This thesis proposes and tests systematic criteria for assessing whether painted caves were locations of group or individual ritual activity in four caves in the Dordogne Region of Southwest France (Bernifal, Font-de-Gaume, Combarelles, and Villars). Resolving this issue provides an important foundation for examining more complex questions such as the exclusivity/inclusivity of groups using caves and their possible roles in the development and maintenance of inequalities in the Upper Paleolithic. Models for the emergence of socioeconomic complexity among hunters and gatherers have increasingly stressed the importance of ritual and ideology in understanding how inequality emerged. Addressing the issue of group dynamics and rituals associated with cave use may provide critical insight in our quest to understand Upper Paleolithic culture.



Cave paintings, Dordogne, France