The Cave and the Cathedral: How a Real-Life Indiana Jones and a Renegade Scholar Decoded the Ancient Art of Man

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What Are The Ancients Trying To Tell Us?

"Why would the Cro-Magnon hunter-gatherers of Europe expend so much time and effort to penetrate into deep, dark, and dangerous caverns, where they might encounter cave bears and lions or get lost and die, aided only by the dim glow of animal fat–burning stone candles, often crawling on all fours for distances of up to a mile or more underground . . . to paint amazing, haunting images of animals?"
—From The Cave and the Cathedral

Join researcher and scientist Amir D. Aczel on a time-traveling journey through the past and discover what the ancient caves of France and Spain may reveal about the origin of language, art, and human thought as he illuminates one of the greatest mysteries in anthropology.

"A well-researched and highly readable exploration of one of the most spectacular manifestations of the unique human creative spirit–and one of its most intriguing mysteries."
—Ian Tattersall, Curator, Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History, and author of The Fossil Trail: How We Know What We Think We Know about Human Evolution

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From the Inside Flap:

They stretch across stone walls located in almost inaccessible underground caverns. In drawing after drawing, in prehistoric caves in France and Spain that date from the Ice Age, horses, bison, bulls, and other animals–often painted in brilliant oranges, blacks, browns, and yellows–stare out into darkness, as fresh and striking today as they were when they were created, some as far back as 30,000 years ago.

The art is eerily similar from cave to cave, even though the artists were separated by geography and as much as 20,000 years. There are few human figures and no trees, grass, or ground. The animals often overlap; two animals might share the same lines, for example, and at certain angles some appear three-dimensional. They are sometimes accompanied by symbols, dots, or, most riveting of all, imprints of human hands.

Who made these extraordinary drawings? How did the artists travel so far underground–often into tunnels and chambers where they could not stand up? How did they make the drawings, when all they had for lighting were candles made of animal fat? Why did they draw them?

And what about the adventurers who discovered or charted these caves? French prehistorian Abbé Henri Breuil explored the cave at Rouffignac, France, in 1915, by crawling on all fours for half a mile inside to reach the deep gallery. There, he had to lie on his back to inspect and copy the drawings from the ceiling. In 1985, diver Henri Cosquer discovered the entrance to an underwater cave 120 feet deep in the Mediterranean near Marseilles and explored it for years without telling anyone, gradually swimming farther into the narrow shaft. Eventually, over 360 feet in, he was able to surface into the air of a large underground hall, covered with ancient art.

Unfolding like an Indiana Jones adventure, this book explores what the art might mean and our own development from the strikingly modern Cro-Magnons.

About the Author:

Amir D. Aczel is a research fellow in the history of science at Boston University and a former visiting scholar at Harvard University. He is the author of fifteen books, including Fermat's Last Theorem, Descartes's Secret Notebook, and The Jesuit and the Skull. He has appeared on the CBS Evening News, CNN, CNBC, and ABC's Nightline, as well as NPR's Weekend Edition and Morning Edition.

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