|Third-year archaeology student Dominic Coe replicates a painting of rhino based on the original image in France’s Grotte Chauvet. Supplied|
There are hundreds of books with illustrations of the earliest human artworks. Images of bison, mammoth, lions and horses from famous cave sites like Chauvet, Lascaux, Altamira and Rouffignac shine out from these pages.
Such photographic images are the most common way through which people encounter the first representational art.
To see these images in their original setting, however, is a very different thing. It’s no simple matter, though: the most famous sites have been closed for decades since it became apparent that the influx of visitors changed their delicate natural environment and degraded their images. So how can students get access to this representational art?
At the University of Liverpool, we decided that if our students couldn’t get to these caves, we’d bring the caves to them. That’s what prompted us first to teach students to replicate representational art themselves – and then to build an artificial cave environment in the university’s Central Teaching Laboratories.
These processes, outlined in research we’ve just published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, illustrate the value of an experimental approach to the study of ancient human crafts.
It is only through detailed and scientifically controlled experiment that we can control enough of the natural variability to investigate many of the most problematic yet interesting questions about past human lives [...] theconversation.com