“The artists chose predatory, dangerous animals," says one archeologist. By painting species that virtually never wound up on the Paleolithic menu but which "symbolized danger, strength and power,” the artists may have been attempting "to capture the essence of" the animals according to another archeologist.
Some animals have more than four legs, or grotesquely exaggerated horns; is that just style, or does it argue a state of ritual trance or hallucination in the artists? No answer, though some naturally occurring manganese oxides, the base of some of the blacks used in cave paintings, are known to be toxic and to act on the central nervous system.
And the main technique of Cro-Magnon art, according to prehistorian Michel Lorblanchet, director of France's National Center of Scientific Research, involved not brushes but a kind of oral spray-painting - blowing pigment dissolved in saliva on the wall. Lorblanchet, who has re-created cave paintings with uncanny accuracy, suggests that the technique may have had a spiritual dimension.
“The largest and main figure at the top is Namondjok, a Creation Ancestor…To the right is Namarrgon, or Lightning Man, who generates the tremendous lightning storms during the rainy season…The female figure beneath is Barrginj, wife of the Lightning Man, while the people below her, elaborately dressed, are perhaps on their way to a ceremony.” This painting could’ve been used to show that the gods/spirits controlled the weather and other natural phenomena, and that humans could help shape the weather through appeasing them through special ceremonies.
“[This painting] depicts a hunting scene, featuring either people or the Mimi spirits, said to inhabit the nooks and crannies of the area’s rock formation.” This painting may have been used to commemorate or celebrate a successful hunt, or it may serve a teaching purpose, displaying group hunting techniques. Or it could seek to honor the Mimi spirits, attempting to garner the support or aid of these spirits when they go on their hunts. It may also seek to recount a Dreamtime story of a Mimi hunt.
A program superimposed arrays of hands onto the dots [found on one of the walls]. The best fit to an array of 48 dots is a sequence of handprints made by an adolescent or a short woman. A panel of 92 dots was probably the handiwork of a tall man. The presence of people of different ages and sexes suggests either a communal experience or masters passing their secrets on to apprentices. Even 32,000 years ago, art was created for more than art's sake.