A leading language expert claims man’s first forays into the art world may be nothing more than ‘ancient doodles’. Dr Ekkehart Malotki, a professor at Northern Arizona University, told an audience at Deer Valley Rock Art Centre on Saturday the true meanings behind the world’s earliest images etched onto rocks will remain a mystery forever – and that they may have been spurred by nothing more than an inane desire to create. Malotki has laid out his theory in a book entitled ‘The Rock Art of Arizona: Art for Life’s Sake’. “The act of making the image was more important to them than the final result,” he says.
The oldest-known rock art is a 300,000-year-old panel of chipped ‘cupules’ in India. Malotki argues that subsequent famous cave paintings, such as that of Bhimbetka in India and France’s Lascaux caves, evolved from these early ‘doodles’: “They are the same doodles children draw in school and adults draw while talking on the telephone,” he says. Malotki believes humans are simply ‘hardwired’ to create art. Yet the precise reason for each artwork will be lost forever, having died with the people who created them.
Malotki has teamed up with eminent psychologist Ellen Dissanayake to surmise that humans have a core repertoire of images they are born with. His book lists 15 ‘human universals’, called phosphenes, found all over the world, to support this view. The universals include dots (cupules), spirals, lines, circles and boxes, and are found as far apart as the Sahara (such as those at Gilf Kebir – watch a great archaeovideo here) and the Americas. Philip DiSilvestro, a prominent collector of rock art, agrees with the theory “I like the expression of spirituality and the fact we are ‘hardwired’ to create,” he says.
Yet there are many who disagree with Malotki and Dissanayake’s conclusions. They feel that rather than being hardwired with images and symbols, human minds are locked in a state of ‘pareidolia’ – a tendency to see familiarity in randomness. For example, seeing faces in clouds.
Nancy Bodmer, a volunteer at the rock art centre, points to her own experiences. “I’m originally from the Northeast (of America), and I was looking at this image in the Agua Fria National Monument and all I could see was a sailboat with a broken mast,” she says. “I was seeing a pre-set image I had in my mind.”
Are we all hardwired to doodle, as Dr Malotki claims? We’ve made our own list of the world’s top ten cave paintings (see here): Do you agree? Let us know right here, either via the , our contacts page or by emailing me direct. We want your opinions – have your say at Heritage Key!