Tuesday, 31 May 2011

...of the Chauvet cave

Silence. I turn off the helmet lamp. A darkness. In the darkness the silence becomes encyclopedic, condensing everything that has occurred in the interval between then and now.
On a rock in front of me, a cluster of red squarish dots. The freshness of the red is startling. As present and immediate as a smell, or as the colour of flowers on a June evening when the sun is going down. These dots were made by applying red oxide pigment to the palm of a hand and then pressing it against the rock. One particular hand has been identified on account of a disjointed little finger, and another imprint of the same hand was found elsewhere in the cave.
On another rock, similar dots, making an overall shape which is like the side view of a bison. The marks of the hands fill the animal's body.
Before the women, men and children arrived (there is a footprint of a child of about eleven in the cave) and after they left for good, the place was inhabited by bears. Probably also by wolves and other animals, but the bears were the masters with whom the nomads had to share the cave. On wall after wall, the scratches of bear paws. Footprints show where a bear walked with her cub, feeling her way in the dark. In the largest and most central of the cave's chambers, which is fifteen metres high, there are numerous wallows or depressions in the clay on the ground where bears lay asleep during their winter hibernation. One hundred and fifty bear skulls have been found here. One of them had been solemnly placed - probably by a Cro-Magnon - on a kind of rock plinth in the furthest reach of the cave.
In the silence, the extent and size of the place begins to count for more and more. The cave is half a kilometre long and sometimes fifty metres wide. Geometrical measurements, however, do not apply because one is inside something like a body.

[Here Is Where We Meet, Berger, J.]

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