Narrative, Neanderthals and Art: An Analysis of Upper Paleolithic Differentiation

HomeArticlesNarrative, Neanderthals and Art: An Analysis of Upper Paleolithic Differentiation

In the last decade of or so of his life, Eric Voegelin developed an interest in very early political symbolism, the symbolism of persons living in what non-paleoscientists call the Stone Age or the Ice Age. In a sense, Voegelin was simply pushing his interest in Altertumswissenschaft into ever-earlier societies. Prior to the agriculture-based cosmological empires of the Ancient Near East discussed in volume one of Order and History were Neolithic societies. These were increasingly sedentary social and political groups consisting of villages and towns, initially confined to western Asia, Anatolia, and the Levant. Antedating the European and Near Eastern Neolithic societies were the various and more or less migratory hunter-gatherer societies of the Upper Paleolithic (50-12 KYA).

Here we have already introduced a major qualification to the analysis: our focus is chiefly on the European evidence. We make this limitation because: (1) when Voegelin was interested in the Upper Paleolithic and Neolithic during the later 1960s and 1970s much less was known of contemporary developments in Asia and Africa; and (2) to attempt to integrate the recent African and Asian discoveries with European ones would greatly lengthen the paper but add little to the theoretical problems to be discussed. This essay, in short, is an attempt to push Voegelinian analytical categories of compactness and differentiation on the Upper Paleolithic.

The structure of this paper is straightforward. In the first section I argue for the centrality of narrative in contemporary archaeology, paleoanthropology and other paleosciences. Narrative is a kind of bridge between philosophical anthropology, which I understand to be a central element in modern political science, and the less reflective but more crudely empirical discourse of paleoscientists. Narratives are stories, and as Hannah Arendt observed, stories are a privileged means to convey meaning.[1] The narrative that is the focus of this paper concerns the transition in Europe between late archaic humans, chiefly Neanderthals, and early modern humans, anatomically modern humans or, as they (and we) are often called, Sapients. The chief concern is not with the analysis of the complex paleoscientific evidence that increases with almost every scholarly publication on the subject matter, but with the narrative into which the evidence is woven. The over-all story is about the genesis of human being as a storyteller.

Central to this story is the production of what, for simplicity, we call art. Specifically, we look at a couple of stories that try to make sense of the genesis of the cave art of Franco-Cantabria. As with the story of Sapients and Neanderthals, this one is enormously more complex in detail than can be discussed here. And, although I am aware of at least some of the detail, that too must eventually be woven into a story about the significance of cave art for the history of human beings. But not now.

Like all stories, the discussion of stories aims to be persuasive because it gives a plausible account of evident realities. Sometimes paleoscientists with deeply positivist commitments borrow from Kipling and call such efforts “just-so” stories. That the accounts of the Neanderthal-Sapient history and of the Upper Paleolithic artistic production, especially cave art, also convey an intelligible meaning is what ensures these stories are not simply fiction. To ground the stories of historical anthropogenesis as reflected in cave art I conclude by indicating how it may be confirmed by the theoretical reflection of philosophical anthropology, specifically by an elegant argument advanced by Hans Jonas. That is, I am also fully aware that this essay is both highly speculative and in need of considerable empirical qualification and nuance. A more comprehensive discussion would require a thick carpet of footnotes citing more extensive evidence and brimming with qualifications. But this is an essay, and essays are stories that try to make a point.


In the preface to his book on hunting Matt Cartmill wrote:

“This book is about the connections that various people have tried to draw between hunting and being human. It deals above all with the hunting hypothesis of human origins, which is the story of how some apes became human when they took up weapons and began to kill. The killer-ape story has roots in older tales, and so this book is in part a literary history. But it is also a book about science, because scientists have been the chief tellers of that story.”[2]

Cartmill was not the first to argue that paleoscientists were storytellers and that, in effect, scientific hypotheses were plot lines. A couple of years earlier, for example, Misia Landau developed a “general theory” of paleoscientific narrative.[3]

For Landau, any account (even physics) of a sequence of events that manifests a meaning is a “narrative.” This commonsensical identification of narrative and story is clearly removed from technical postmodern uses of the term. With respect to the present problem, Landau wrote that “every paleoanthropological account sets out to answer the question: what really happened in human evolution?” And they all address terrestiality, bipedalism, encephalization and the development of technology, politics and religion – though not in the same order.[4] Paleoscientific analysis as well as ordinary commonsense would conclude that questions concerning bipedalism and encephalization are scientific in the usual sense of the term. Landau argued that the scientific accounts also constitute a meaningful story. As noted above, the plausibility and persuasiveness of the scientific account depends on the plausibility and persuasiveness of the story of which it forms a part.

The usual story is that: (1) the nonhuman primates were relatively safe, usually in the trees; (2) one of them was somehow different from the others, which introduces the “hero” of the story; (3) the hero is dislodged because of environmental or other changes; and (4) departed on a new terrestrial adventure where (5) the hero is tested and triumphs, which is explained by (6) the “guidance” of natural selection (Darwin) or an equivalent factor or force that (8) transforms the hero from primitive to civilized so that (9) the hero can be tested again and triumph, even though his or her triumph is accompanied by anxieties summoning further action.

Readers of Voegelin’s work written during the 1950s and early 1960s will find Landau’s account of the anxious hero a familiar one. In Israel and Revelation, for example, Voegelin introduced the imagery of human existence as participation in a mysterious “drama of being” that is illuminated only by consciousness, and then only partly. As he put the matter there:

At the center of his existence man is unknown to himself and must remain so, for the part of being that calls itself man could be known fully only if the community of being and its drama in time were known as a whole. Man’s partnership in being is the essence of his existence, and this essence depends on the whole of which existence is a part. Knowledge of the whole, however, is precluded by the identity of the knower with the partner, and ignorance of the whole precludes essential knowledge of the part. This situation of ignorance with regard to the decisive core of existence is more than disconcerting: it is profoundly disturbing, for from the depth of this ultimate ignorance wells up the anxiety of existence. (CW, 14: 40)

Moreover, the “process of symbolization” never dispels the anxiety of existence no matter how adequate it becomes as an expression of experienced reality. The reason is simple: the more adequate the symbolization, the more aware humans become that they are participants in a “cloud of unknowing,” to use a familiar enough symbol. That is, the differentiation of consciousness does not clear up the mystery of participation so much as render it more intense. As Voegelin remarked in an essay from the late 1960s: “Anxiety is the response to the mystery of existence out of nothing. The search for order is the response to anxiety” (CW, 28: 71). Narrative in this context is one expression of the search for order. There is, in other words, an order to the sequences of paleoscientific narratives just as these same paleoscientific narratives express a search for another order, namely a meaningful answer to the question: “what really happened in human evolution?”

The first problem, the discussion of the sequence of paleoscientific narratives is relatively straightforward. “Creating narratives,” Joyce wrote, “permeated archaeology from the initial moments of investigation of sites through to the production of texts,” which means something more than “written materials.” Archaeological storytelling both expresses insight and knowledge and constitutes an archaeological community – and, indeed, more broadly, a scholarly community. “Narrative in a broad sense,” she continued, “is constitutive of archaeology. The writing of archaeology begins long before an author puts pen to page…. Telling ourselves stories as we engage in primary research, we construct already narrativized knowledge, which then appears more natural in its transcription in written texts.”[5]

A more interesting question concerns the narratives that look to account for “what really happened in human evolution.” Of course, one can simplify the story. For example, “the dominance of Cro-Magnon over Neanderthal, like the struggle between two brothers, which occurs in folktale and myth, may represent the triumph of virtue over turpitude.”[6] Indeed, until recently that is precisely how the “triumph” of anatomically modern human immigrants from Africa was presented.[7] Neanderthals, however, have always been in a curious position: until very recently the descendants of the African invaders, modern Sapients, including thee and me, were unsure whether the ones they “displaced” (to use a conventional euphemism) were human or not. Today, on the basis of biology – Neanderthals and Sapients interbred – and also on the basis of morphology, paleoscientists mostly agree that we all belong to the same species.[8]

The current general agreement among paleoscientists does not entirely dissolve the problem. It is still not clear whether Neanderthals and Sapients are defined by different combinations of unique traits or by unique combinations of different traits. And it is even less clear what is meant by a trait.[9] The reason for this essential ambiguity can be specified: evolution is a continuous process but taxonomy divides into discontinuous categories. Accordingly, the two are incompatible. This is especially true “with reference to fossil materials, where the only biological characteristics available for study are the morphological traits of scarce fossils.”[10]

Turning specifically to the question of why Neanderthals were ever considered a species separate from Sapiens, Henneberg argued that both the question and the answer were historical rather than biological or morphological. The historical factors involved included the following:

(1) the fact that the first finds of scientifically described Pleistocene human remains occurred in nineteenth-century Europe because of the development of science at this time on this continent, (2) that Europe in the Pleistocene was a geographic area that promoted particular adaptations because of its climatic factors and geomorphological configuration, and (3) that Neandertal morphology was clearly different from that of modern Europeans. Thus, about 100 years ago a separate taxonomic category for Neandertals was created, and every new hominin fossil was assessed as being either “in” (the Neandertal group) or “out.” Since the simplest way we can evaluate a fossil human as being “our” ancestor is by its morphological similarities to ourselves, all Middle-to-Late Pleistocene hominins were divided into those resembling “us” and those resembling Neandertals. The original morphological description of Neandertals lacked the sophistication of modern cladistics techniques and thus exaggerated certain characteristics as unique for this group. Since the prevailing approach to science is still the incremental, positivist one, Neandertals, once defined, remained unquestioned as a valid category.[11]

In other words, the choice of narrative in the nineteenth century was responsible for the view, now widely held to be erroneous, that Neanderthals and Sapients were distinct species. It matters, then, to get the narrative right. But how?

The first step both for contemporary paleoscientists and for Voegelinian political science is to abandon all historical teleology. The Voegelinian strictures against the notion of secure progress, including the progress of science, are numerous.[12] So far as paleoscientists are concerned, the variations within the genus Homo existing prior to both Sapients and Neanderthals, often identified by such familiar Latin adjectives as Heidelbergensis, Erectus, and Habilis, are not to be understood biologically as “contributing” to the eventual outcome. The end products, the Sapients, were not present from the beginning, as an oak was present in an Aristotelean acorn. Moreover, the contemporary Darwinian synthesis avoids any taint of determinism or historical teleology because the criteria of natural selection do not imply a creative process. As Ian Tattersall observed, “natural selection can only work to promote or eliminate novelties that are presented to it by the random genetic changes … that lie behind all biological innovations.” Accordingly, there can be nothing directional or inevitable in the process of evolution, “which can smartly reverse itself any time the fickle environment changes.”[13] In short, “there are many ways of doing business in this world, and ours is only one of them.”[14]

Let us consider two further accounts of the place of narrative in contemporary paleoscience. The first, by Wiktor Stoczkowski, discussed what he called the “hominization narratives.”[15] For most such narratives, he wrote, “a change in the natural environment functions as the prime mover that triggers the process.” There follow three main pathways depending on the importance accorded anatomy, technology, and subsistence, namely that environmental change leads to bipedalism, origin of tools, or a transition to hunting and subsistence. And from there an additional causal chain unfolds: bipedalism leads to free hands, which made tool production possible, which led to replacement of large with small canines; tools led to communication, language, and modern humans. Or, if hunting was seen as the most important, we get sexual division of labour, establishing the custom of food sharing and reciprocity, which begins social life, which requires communication and therefore language, allowing mental facilities of to grow, leading to culture, and so on.[16]

Whether any particular causal sequence is empirically valid is secondary so far as the narrative structure was concerned. As Stoczkowski put it, the postulated environmental change that pushed the early hominins from the forest was also a transition from a paradisal nature, often associated with the forest, where plentiful food went hand in hand with security, to the dynamic state of a hostile nature, associated with an open environment, where scarcity of resources led to fierce struggles for survival. It is only opinions concerning the cause of the change from [supportive] mother nature to [harsh] stepmother nature that vary.[17]

“Paradisal nature,” according to this story, provided abundance not only for hominins but for other animals as well, “so that no creature is obliged to kill in order to live, and friendship between humans and animals becomes an essential feature of the primordial existence, where universal love holds sway and no conflict pits either humans or beasts against each other.”[18] The argument reiterated what Stoczkowski called the “conjectural anthropology” found, for instance, in Book II of Plato’s Republic where Socrates’ first vegetarian city is dismissed by Glaucon as a city of sows. Glaucon desired red meat.

In other words, whether from the start one postulates a benevolent mother or a malevolent stepmother nature, the result is the same: “just as a shortage of food in a hostile environment forced humans to become hunters, so abundance in a hospitable environment obliged them now to start living by hunting. So, whatever the environment, its impact on our ancestors is the same, and the logic of ecological determinism remains safe.” Moreover, the core of the hominization narrative remains intact: hominins underwent a transition from a pre-human paradisal state to the toiling human existence we all know today.[19] The moral of the story is therefore subordinate to the all-accommodating generative matrix from which it emerged: “Do we admire the progress of civilization?” Stoczkowski asked. “Then we shall adopt a view of feeble humans with no technical skill; we shall place them in a hostile nature and explain anthropogenesis by the primitive struggle that culminates in access to ever more flourishing culture. Do we doubt the benefits of progress? Then we make our primitive nature bountiful, our ancestors altruist, and brotherly sharing becomes the principal antecedent of explanatory sequences.”[20]

Stoczkowski’s conclusion was not simply that vernacular, folkloric, and philosophical discussions of anthropogenesis were “constructed out of the same conceptual matrix” as the paleoscientific account of hominization.[21] Rather, he argued that according great importance to the environment was not sufficient because, whether it was conceived as benevolent or hostile, the unscripted response by hominins also was important. “My conclusion,” Stoczkowski wrote, “is, in fact, limited to showing that the explanatory formulae keep returning, throughout the two hundred years or so covered by our scenarios, to the same premises, the very ones that naïve anthropology has been using for two millennia.” [22] In other words, a focus on the narratives of paleoscientists is not simply concerned to show that some accounts are wrong – although there may be errors – but also to argue that the general narrative of hominization has not changed since antiquity.

More specifically, the narrative of “out-of-the-jungle-and-into-the savannah” does not always mean a change from the gentle gathering of fruits to the violence of hunting. “Things may have happened that way. But they may equally have happened differently, and we can itemize that ‘differently’ in a multitude of ways.” On the one hand, this means that “validation based on plausibility can only separate those ideas that fit in with popular commonsense anthropology from those that go beyond it. Thus the ‘plausibility’ of a hominization scenario [or narrative] may guarantee its social success, but it tells us nothing about its value as a representative of historical reality.” Value as a representative of historical reality would presumably require a more truthful narrative. But this means, on the other hand, that if paleoscientists did abandon the naïve (or folkloric, vernacular and philosophical) tradition, they would also abandon at least part of the tradition of scientific interrogation and just look at random collections of data.[23] One way or another, narrative is necessary.

This does not mean avoiding the obligations of empirical validation (a thoroughly Voegelinian postulate) in order simply to elaborate a plausible story, the credibility of which depends on “the seductive world of naïve imagery whose imprimatur bears the stamp of commonsense” and nothing else.[24] Empirical evidence is not simply useful as illustrative of the larger narrative, which is to say, only so long as it does not disturb or challenge it. But here we encounter a more serious problem. Like philosophy and theology, narratives aim to know the origin and the nature of things, unlike the sciences of phenomena, which seek “an empirically controlled correspondence between conceptual representations and the phenomena represented.” The more serious problem, however, is that the origin, the arche, of phenomena is not itself a phenomenon. Accordingly, a paleoanthropological narrative that remains unaware of its own status as narrative as well as of the non-phenomenal status of an arche will be as defective as the non-empirical and merely plausible commonsense story.

Stoczkowski’s conclusion was regrettably tentative. By his argument, paleoscientific narratives usually oblige us “to put aside the familiar opinions, and it [science] disappoints by its semiotic poverty, which precludes the facile grafting on of philosophical extensions loaded with ‘meaning.’” The most “science” can therefore achieve is “the conviction that one can break with tradition,” a conviction that “forms part of this new tradition.”[25] The endless treadmill of breaking with tradition to constitute a new tradition can be concluded, at least tentatively, only with something approaching a philosophical anthropology to provide, precisely, a “meaning” indefinitely postponed and effectively excluded by such a tradition.

In sum: Stoczkowski’s argument may have been inconclusive but its very inconclusiveness did point to an important problem: if one traces the story of human origins back to the out-of-the-jungle-into-the-savannah account, where does that story begin? One way or another it would seem that even these comprehensive narratives eventually require an arche of some kind. This does not mean that archaeologists must become theologians or philosophers, but it does mean that they must discover some kind of principle that provides a meaning to the narrative. The tradition of breaking with tradition is as satisfactory, to use the phrase Leo Strauss applied to the Lockean account of human being, as the joyless quest for joy that characterizes bourgeois life. Very simply we must eventually deal with the question: what in the paleoscientific account distinguishes human being from other animals?

This question arises in a more recent discussion of the centrality of narrative, The Last Lost World, by Lydia V. Pyne and Stephen J. Pyne, a daughter-father team of historians.[26] They begin by noting the oft-forgotten fact that “as an idea, the Pleistocene [2.6M to 12KYA] appeared in the early nineteenth century, inseparable from other concepts and assumptions of those times. It then underwent intellectual upheavals and an evolution of its own, as profound as the inundations of ice and pluvials.” As did Stoczkowski, the Pynes argue that the Pleistocene is both a geological era and a cultural artifact that is expressed as a story. The former is about data, a chronicle of physical, fossil-correlated strata. “The organization that matters is one that invests a timeline with significance to people, that endows it with meaning, that transforms chronicles into narratives that bestow on events a theme and an organizing principle that gives normative shape to an empirical tumult of bones, stones, air bubbles, and other hodge-podge from the past.”[27] In short, a chronicle is a time-factored sequence; a narrative is a story that makes sense of it.

The Last Lost World reiterated several points already noted by Landau and Stoczkowski and recast several others they made. The authors argue, for example, that the two major narratives of the Pleistocene are (1) the geographic, which is centered on ice and (2) the genomic, which is centered on hominins. The first presents early hominins as marginal creatures vulnerable to the whims of climate and geology who barely managed to meet the challenges of their environment. The once again more interesting genomic story tells how we Sapients behaved differently than other creatures because we acted on the basis of learning more than instinct, which in this respect is “only a modernized version of a very old discourse in which we distinguish ourselves from the beasts by our reason, our capacity to choose and act freely, and our possession of an intangible something that other creatures lacked.”[28]

Central to the second story is the control of fire – and evidence for making fire is 790KY old. It was a catalyst for almost all subsequent human technologies. Fire is itself an odd technology: “it is not a material object but a chemical reaction. You don’t carry fire, you carry the conditions that permit it to happen; you can’t make it and set it aside for later use, you have to tend it. You can’t find fossil evidence of fire itself, like a lithic flake or a drilled bone; you find its chemical residues, such as char and ash.”[29] Its effects are indirect and social because fire must be housed and protected more even that the ones who tend it. No wonder even our contemporaries still maintain “eternal” flames.

Using fire to heat foodstuffs gelatinizes starches and turns them into easily digestible carbohydrates; it also makes animal protein more digestible, detoxifies many foods and kills worms and parasites. Cooked food does not require huge jaws so the skull need not be an anchor for them and can bulge upwards to accommodate a much larger brain. Fire made possible hardened spear points. Fire-treated stone flakes more easily and metals can be extracted from it. Fire turned sand into glass and clay into ceramics.[30] In short, while other tools might have provided substitutes for talons and fangs, thus creating a degree of parity and eventually superiority with respect to other animals, “fire placed hominins apart.”[31]

The Pynes also dealt with the encounter with the Neanderthals: hominins who evolved in the warmth of Africa met with those who evolved in the European cold. Their joint history was initially comparable to that of the ursids. That is, “the dramatic plot of the last cave bear,” which was replaced by the grizzly, “might complement the sad saga of the last Neanderthal.” But there is already a difference: the replacement of cave bears with grizzlies is not usually called a “sad saga.” Their more general point, however, is that the story of Sapients is a story of exterminators and terminators who extinguished not just the Neanderthals but other megafauna as well. Where did all the megafauna go? As Jared Diamond once colourfully remarked: they disappeared down the hole in the middle of human faces. The Pynes called this human achievement an ecological version of original sin. And even where Sapients did not exterminate the megafauna they reduced the number of species and placed them all, if not on probation, then tamed and tolerated under their reign and sometimes rein.[32]

The issue of the Neanderthal-Sapient encounter matters in detail, they argue, because it is not just a question of climate or refugia: “knowing how it happened describes the choices the founding Sapients made, which defines their character.” Accordingly, when paleoscientists adopted the position that behavior was the measure of modernity, “it became essential to deny Neanderthals any expression of art, higher reasoning, or abstract logic that would edge their behavior across that tipping point.” Granted there were (or are) morphological differences between Sapients and Neanderthals, the question of whether they are judged by us as being significant or not, they argue, is beside the point because “their place among the evolutionary phylogeny of hominins may matter less than their role in the evolution of ideas. It seemed necessary to split off ancients in order to define moderns.” It was relatively easy to place other members of the genus Homo into a historical chain, but Neanderthals were not the ancestors of Sapients. Thus “they practically begged to be different. Yet the basis for that discrimination was unstable, because it relied on a definition that moved from brain size to mental capacity, and this was itself a construction of the mind, of the mind contemplating the mind.” Or more accurately, of the Sapient mind contemplating both the Neanderthal mind and the Sapient mind.[33]

The logic of the authors has finally brought us to the most interesting and fundamental question of philosophical anthropology introduced above: what makes Sapients specifically human in a way that Neanderthals are not?

One might dispute their understanding of philosophy as moral philosophy, but the Pynes clearly understand the problem: “To be powerful, a narrative must … be anchored in art and philosophy, since aesthetic closure and moral resolution are what convey the context that endows facts with enduring meaning. They make a chronology into a story and distinguish a narrative from a mathematical model.”[34] They emphasized art more than philosophy and, not surprisingly, turned to a major venue of very early art, the decorated caves of Franco-Cantabria.[35] Caves were important in the Upper Paleolithic long before Sapients started decorating them with images and incisions.

Caves were domiciles, refuges and sanctuaries, oracles, and entries to other worlds. They collected the outside world, sieved its abundance and stockpiled the survivors. Cave bears went into caves to hibernate and die, Neanderthals and Sapients to live and leave relics. The known world of Pleistocene hominins is largely the microcosm preserved in its caves. They are, in truth, immense caches of data. Their microgeomorphology documents changes in climate and terrain; their biotic residues, rhythms of biogeography; their stratigraphy, a chronicle of natural history; their bones, a depository of relics, curiosities, and cultural histories.[36]

Both Neanderthals and Sapients used caves as refuges and occasionally as graves, but (with a few exceptions) apparently only Franco-Cantabrian Sapients – popularly called Cro-Magnons – decorated them.

The history of the worldwide expansion of Sapients out of Africa has been several times revised over the past generation as more evidence comes to light. A recent account of the genesis of modern humans in the later Pleistocene argues that: (1) morphologically modern humans emerged in tropical eastern Africa about 150KYA followed by (2) a 100KY uneven expansion across the rest of the Old World. Around 75 KYA additional early modern humans migrated from eastern Africa to southern Asia and eventually into Europe where they met late archaic humans, mostly Neanderthals. The last period, from 50KYA to 35KYA saw the establishment of modern humans as the dominant form of humanity.[37]

Some paleoscientists argue that the behaviour of these ecumenic colonists was entirely new and that their spread was a “revolution.” Others dismiss such stories as romantic nonsense and argue that the African exodus was nothing but one more incremental migration. One way to understand this argument is to distinguish between cultural and natural criteria. The argument in favour of a “revolution” caused by Sapients is that “by the time Sapients returned to the Levant, around 60,000 years ago, they were distinct from – behaved differently than – those predecessors who had been driven out by the glacial cycle.”[38] On the Sapient side, this means distinguishing between anatomically and behaviorally modern humans. The new Sapients and their Cro-Magnon successors had something that did not require any morphological changes. On the Neanderthal side, despite their burials and their “admittedly modest artistic activities,”[39] they did not undertake anything like the cave art – nor of course did any other contemporaries (with only a few exceptions) outside Southwestern Europe.[40] Of course archaeologists differ over the reasons for the discrepancies between the behaviour of Neanderthals and Sapients and why they had different hunting strategies, different social orders and so on.[41] We need not consider these controversies in order to note that, whatever the cause of the differences between Sapients and Neanderthals, (and assuming that those differences were caused rather than freely chosen by Sapients), the cave art expressed something new. Before suggesting what the art expressed, let is consider the significance of looking to art in the first place.


The Pynes considered it paradoxical that paleoscientists looked to art in order to explain what is modern about Sapients, whether in Southern or Eastern Africa or Southwestern Europe. The artifacts (mobilary art) and the cave images (parietal art) “spoke a language of symbolism” but they were “not to be spoken about through the lenses of art history and the philosophy of aesthetics.” One reason, perhaps the main reason, was that art history and aesthetics were not considered scientific to the conventionally positivistic paleoscientists. In order to avoid discussing art and painting they spoke of “symbolling behaviour” rather than painting or thinking and focused on the brain rather than the mind. To non-positivists these arbitrary and dogmatic restrictions look a bit silly. Even so, positivistic paleoscientists have achieved some interesting insights.

One way or another art had to become central to distinguishing what made Sapients fully human. Homo erectus did not create art at all and Neanderthals, as indicated, had only “modest” artistic achievements. Accordingly one may conceive of a continuum from Erectines to Sapients that reflected increased and more complex art production. More precisely, the sudden appearance of cave images toward the end of the Pleistocene has come to define what is fully human about Cro-Magnons and, by implication, what is less-than-fully-human about Neanderthals and, before them both, Erectines.

In this context paleoscientists discuss “symbolic representation,” the evidence for which is found in parietal and mobilary art – though for the positivist reasons just indicated they usually avoid dealing with the implications of the term “art.” But even the term “symbolic representation” presupposes direct experiences of reality that are symbolized in a re-presentative mode or fashion.[42] The most important problem for a Voegelinian analysis of the symbolism expressed in the Upper Paleolithic parietal art is: what experiences were symbolized by way of the cave imagery?

Now, this simple question in fact introduced a huge problem. We can only hint at a few of the dimensions involved. To begin with, there are great variations in the style of the artwork among the caves. The imagery changed over space and time –and the time dimension stretched from the Aurignacian culture at Chauvet (30-32 KYA) through the Magdalenian at Lascaux (17KYA) to the imagery at Altamira (12KYA) almost on the eve of the Neolithic. That is, the cave art in this relatively small corner of Europe was distributed over a period of time more than ten times longer than the Christian era. Moreover, the same image – an aurochs, for example, or a horse, may well symbolize one experiential meaning in one place and another somewhere else. Indeed, little more than a well-developed imagination is required to lead one to conclude that the entire interpretive enterprise is a waste of time: we simply cannot know what the images and signs mean. And yet, the history of interpretation of cave art, from the argument in favour of hunting and reproductive magic of Abbé Breuil through the structuralists such as Leroi-Gourhan to the contemporary shamanic interpretations of Jean Clottes and David Lewis-Williams (to name only a few), there has been a steady increase in insight and understanding.

For example, there have been useful and commonsensical reflections on why human beings go into caves to paint animals in the first place. Why any caves? Why those caves? Why in those specific places within those specific caves? Moreover, the animals they painted were more or less naturalistic so a modern observer can tell what species had been drawn or engraved or sculpted, but there is also sufficient individual style to indicate a personality or a school. The exaggeration of an aurochs’ horn or of the tusk of a mammoth indicated that the artist saw those features as especially significant. The absence of landscapes indicated that the realistic animals belong not to the natural environment but to the cave environment, which is to say the decorated cave was intended to be symbolic as well as realistic. Differences between decoration at the front of the cave (usually called a gallery) and more or less exposed to the light, and the imagery to be found only in the deep and pitch-black recesses (usually called a sanctuary), suggests that the topographic disposition and associated imagery was also significant. The near complete absence of images of human beings matters as well.

Before considering a recent analysis that tries to bring together many of the problems noted in the last paragraph, there is one aspect of Upper Paleolithic art about which the debate is pretty well settled: the artists dealt with many of the same problems faced by contemporary artists in projecting a three-dimensional image onto a more or less flat surface.[43] To meet those problems, the Upper Paleolithic artist devised techniques familiar to contemporary art historians.

They discovered outline, contour line, cross-contour line, parallel hatching, cross hatching, cameo and intaglio marking, modeling, carving in relief and in the round, champlevé carving, smudging, shading, overlapping, stenciling, foreshortening, use of friezes, and use of plane and void perspective. The purpose of these techniques was to enable them to replicate the way the world looked.[44]

They made forays into what today would be called pointillism, cubism, and surrealism. Moreover, all of these sophisticated techniques were lost during the Neolithic but recovered in classical Greece then lost again until the Renaissance. In all three periods, and unlike, for instance, the art of the Akkadians, of Pharaonic Egypt, or of tenth-century Byzantium, the artists were interested in portraying what they beheld even while they also conveyed a symbolic meaning.

Granted that the Upper Paleolithic decorated caves expressed a more fully human experience of reality that can be found in Neanderthal culture, it may be possible to specify more closely just what distinguished Neanderthal from Cro-Magnon consciousness. Or, to cast the problem in Voegelinian language, it may be possible to examine the art of the Upper Paleolithic caves as expressing a more differentiated consciousness than is to be found among Neanderthals. The argument that follows and that concludes this section is borrowed from Clayton Eshleman, best known as a poet and translator. His book, Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination and the Construction of the Underworld, incorporated his informed experience of the caves into poetry, narrative, and analysis.[45] It seems to me to be the kind of book Voegelin would have loved.

Eshleman began his reflections on the significance of cave art with an “intuition” in 1970 at Combarelles cave that the images there were motivated by a crisis in which Upper Paleolithic people began to separate the animal out of their about-to-be human heads and to project it onto cave walls (as well as onto a variety of portable tools and weapons often made out of the animals themselves). In other words, that the liberation of what might be called autonomous imagination came from within a projective response on the part of those struggling to differentiate themselves from, while being deeply bonded to, the animal.[46]

Neanderthal consciousness provided the “seeds of narrative” as was evident in their burial practices, but image making, he argued, was the result of a crisis “of the separation of the hominid from the animal to the distinct but related classifications of the human and the animal.” Obviously there could be no classification without the experience of separation. Franco-Cantabrian image making undertaken during the harsh climatic conditions of the late Pleistocene, was a period during which Cro-Magnons increasingly depended for their survival on animals and increasingly competed with Neanderthals for game. “Seemingly suddenly,” around 32KYA, the Cro-Magnons started painting the “animalness they were losing (or really, had lost), yet were utterly dependent upon, onto the cave walls.” Moreover, the expression of Cro-Magnon consciousness, which is to say the self-consciousness of human awareness of not-being-animal (and perhaps not-being-Neanderthal), in Eshleman’s argument, was a “‘fall’ from the seamless animal web.”[47]

In Jungian terms, “prehistoric archetypes seem to us far less differentiated. This could mean that specific structures were not yet delineated so as to take on distinct characteristics of the mind.” This initial differentiation of consciousness, the animal/hominin separation, expressed in Neanderthal burials, also expresses the increased perilousness of life that was understood as less “catastrophic” for animals even though animals can be aware of their impending demise – as any hunter with a deer in the crosshairs knows. With Cro-Magnon consciousness a “swamplike churning” enhanced their awareness of biological peril that, Eshleman said, was “sublimated” by image making.[48]

The greater self-consciousness of Cro-Magnons, or their more differentiated consciousness compared to Neanderthals, meant that the caves were no longer just shelters but the “insides” of the earth, a kind of psychic as well as physical landscape. “Cave insides were marvelous and forbidding partially because of what they dramatized, or even magnetized, in the insides (body and soul) of the person groping through those cavernous innards.” Simply being within a cave allowed Cro-Magnons to participate in the transforming power of insides, which turned daylight into darkness. The difference between the daytime world of hunting and surviving and the darkness of the cave increased the gap between human culture and animal life. Awareness of this change, Eshleman said, was fraught with ambivalence. Tools and weapons and increased group coordination meant that human beings were “no longer fundamentally prey.” Just the opposite: animals were the prey of humans and the source of a human arsenal. The hunter “used their bones and antlers to help him kill them.” But at the same time animals were humans’ teachers and so filled with mystery as to seem divine. “Cro-Magnon had entered a separation continuum with creatures upon which his life depended and with whom he must have felt a profound bond.”[49]

Eshleman then suggested that the caves might partly resolve the “unsettling innerness” of Cro-Magnon self-consciousness, the ambivalent awareness of a world above teeming with life where humans killed in order to live. By this interpretation, the cave images amounted to a “truce” with the daytime world expressed inside or below the earth in a place that was itself fearsome, awesome, “and charged with an atmosphere in which the burgeoning human subconscious may have become aware of itself.”[50] Or to state this speculative narrative more cautiously: such an interpretation is a plausible account of some of the images in some of the caves some of the time.

What does seem beyond controversy is that wildness and tameness became hybridized in hunting but also in the spiritual quests of shamans understood as mediators between the world above and the world below.[51] The caves, Eshleman argued, “must have been conducive to trances and trances resolved conflicts outside the caves” by providing the opportunity for a “momentary reestablishment of a human and animal connection” that was sensed to have been lost. The lost contact or separation from animals accounted for their being painted on the cave walls, “projections of the animality Cro-Magnon people were distancing themselves from.”[52]

By this account other changes followed. First, once the images were painted, humans grew accustomed to being distanced from animals, leaving only the shamanic spiritual specialists in place to maintain the connections. At the same time as Cro-Magnons understood how their arms and hands and minds might overcome the power of animals, they also acknowledged that animals were “older” and “complete” in a way that humans were not. They had sharper senses, were more at home at night, and lived in places inhospitable to humans. The ambivalence continued. Moreover, when “man-about-to-be” projected animality onto the cave walls, there was not much left of his humanity, which, Eshleman explained, is why there are so few obviously human images in the caves.

A second consequence of the projection of animal images is that Cro-Magnons achieved a distance from animals that enabled them to achieve “a perspective in which they could sight them precisely as figures of stasis, volcanic energy, eternal renewal, and beauty…. Animals transformed into images became sacred precincts, or temene, the boundary outlines of which sank, as it were, even deeper moats between the human community and the images’ living counterparts.”[53] Separation made adoration and perception possible but also provoked the apperception of a previous time when animals and humans shared and participated in a mutual reservoir of power and community. This combination of recollection and anxiety may account for the hybrid images of shamans who desired to repossess and participate in animal energies – and even to direct and control them.


In The Phenomenon of Life Hans Jonas discussed the differences between life and matter, between plant and animal life and between human and animal life. Life is “the explicit confrontation of being with non-being,” a “protracted effort of delay whose end is foredoomed.” The defiance of the organism necessarily ends in compliance: all life is mortal. Animal is distinguished from plant life, Jonas said, by the differentiation of irritability suffered by plants into the motility, perception, and emotion of animals. For animals the world is both inviting and threatening; for plants it is neither. And yet for both, humans know, life is precarious because it will end.[54]

A few years later he returned to this problem in the context of distinguishing human from animal life. Long before we excavate temples, he remarked, we find three things: tool, image, and tomb. The tool tells us “that here a being, compelled by his needs to deal with matter, [who] serves these needs in artificially mediated ways” by invention and then by improved invention. The image tells us “that here a being, using tools on matter for a immaterial end, [who] represents to himself the contents of his perception” who changes them, augments them, and thus generates “another object-world of representation beyond the physical objects of his need and direct satisfaction.” The tomb tells us “that here a being, subject to mortality, [who] meditates on life and death, defies appearance and elevates his thought to the invisible” thus subordinating both tool and image to such thoughts. All three artifacts transcend what is given – physical necessity, passive perception, and death. All are different expressions of human freedom, which we share with the artificers even if we understand little of the purpose of the tool (except that it had one), the meaning of an image (except that it represents something), or the ideas of a funeral cult (except that ideas of some sort were at work and that they pondered the riddle and paradox of a beyond).[55]

Of these three kinds of artifacts, Jonas gives the greatest analytical attention to images and to the capacity of image-making as the most important specific difference between humans and animals because it is most comprehensively justified by its results and because the formal qualities of images and image making are (it seems to me) sufficient to distinguish Sapients from Neanderthals and, I would argue, to distinguish the more differentiated Sapient consciousness form the more compact Neanderthal.

Jonas described eight formal qualities of images and image making:

1. an image is a likeness of another object;

2. the likeness is intentionally produced as a representation of something;

3. the likeness is incomplete, an image, not an imitation, a representation not a simulation;

4. incompleteness implies free choices and selection in order to emphasize what matters;

5. incompleteness of representation leads to de-emphasis on similitude and emphasis on recognizability of intention as symbolic conventions and graphical abbreviations are developed: where at first a degree of likeness is required to make an intention recognizable, eventually the image-making capacity is open to invention;

6. the object of representation is visual shape, not size, colour, etc. because sight is the basis for abstraction;

7. the image is at rest, though it can depict motion because it does not represent the causality of its own genesis;

8. the difference between image and the material presentation of it means (a) copying of the image is possible; (b) there can be many images of the same object; (c) the single image can represent many objects.

Corresponding to these properties of an image are the properties of a conscious subject evident (I would argue) in Cro-Magnons that makes and beholds them. To make an image one must already be able to behold it as an image; to behold an image, one must be able to produce it. Skill at producing and beholding is a different matter: obviously not all Sapients are artists, art “appreciators,” or art critics. Jonas’ point is that, if you an behold or produce an image, however crude or sophisticated, beautiful or ugly, however fully or partially you understand the significance of what you behold, you are nevertheless the kind of being to whom the faculty of being able to represent belongs.

The capability of image making suggests a clear distinction between animal and Sapient perception: humans can see “mere likenesses” whereas animals cannot. That is why scarecrows and duck decoys work. Considering that ducks and geese can learn to avoid decoys, one expects that Neanderthals might decoy only once. But so might Cro-Magnons. More philosophically put, Sapients can immediately make non-perceptual distinctions so that the similitude of a scarecrow to a human or of a decoy to a duck becomes the object of apprehension. In short, Sapients certainly, Neanderthals perhaps, can separate form and matter. Accordingly, when a human, Sapient or Neanderthal, makes an image, translating a material likeness into a visual reality, the image becomes detached from the object and the meaning, the eidos, becomes (at least for Sapients) independent of the thing. In other words, vision whether animal or human is a kind of stepping back from the environment in order to be free to survey it; a second stepping back takes place when Sapients see an object as an appearance, and so distinguished from reality. In this way Sapients can ponder things in the imagination, and the things pondered are not material. This new freedom combines distance and control and, because the representation is external, in the world, an image is shareable common property. If the argument of Wynn and Coolidge is sound, there is no obvious reason why Neanderthals might not also have learned to become artists. But even if they could have become artists, they did not, or did not to the extent that Sapients did.

This difference between Sapients and Neanderthals is significant because the artist sees more than the non-artist not because she has better vision but because she remakes what she sees in the likeness of things, which is to say, the artist has a standard of truth: images can be more or less true to their objects. But images can also represent “new” objects, objects of the imagination. This does not mean the images are simply imaginary, because they still must be produced, which is to say, the image-maker’s body, his or her animal motility, is subject to the discipline imposed by the eidos of the image, its meaning, a “freely chosen, internally represented and purposely projected form.”[56]

From the argument just summarized Jonas drew a number of conclusions. First, “the gap between animal world-relation and the crudest attempt at representation is infinitely wider than that between the latter and any geometrical construction. It is a metaphysical gap, compared with which the other is one only of degree.”[57] There is no reason to think that Neanderthals are not on the same side of that metaphysical gap as Sapients, even if they did not fully actualize the implications, which is to say the difference between them and Sapients was one of degree or of difference in compactness and differentiation of consciousness.[58]

Second, once the distinction between true and false likeness is made, image making becomes “a pristine form of active truth-effort.” This means that pictorial representation is a “fundamental exercise in man’s truth-effort in relation to the visible world.” The old definition of truth, adaequatio intellectus ad rem, the correspondence of the mind to the thing, “appears here in the more elementary form of adequatio imaginis ad rem,”[59] the correspondence of the image to the thing.

Perhaps the most important conclusion to be drawn is that, if image and truth are based on a separation or eidos from given or existing or empirical reality, this separation also introduces a new level of mediation in the relationship of organism to environment. With plants, metabolism made possible the direct commerce of the organism with the environment; animal life serves metabolic needs by way of the relations of the organism to objects in space that are desired, obtained, and acted upon before entering the metabolic system. With animal being, sight is crucial in the relation between the animal and the environment and is extended by the capacity of humans to produce images. Looked at from the achievements of animal perception, human image making looks like an extension of perception. The effect, however, is that humans cease to see things directly. The images become symbols not just representations of objects. This new dimension of mediation enables humans to reflect so that the subject present in the objectified image appears to itself, the human, who then can raise the question: what is my place in the cosmos? What is my place in the grand scheme of things? And then humans can judge their conduct in light of the image of what the human place in the scheme of things actually is. That is, human consciousness is participatory as well as perceptual. “Willingly or not,” Jonas said, “he lives the idea of man – in agreement or in conflict, in acceptance or in defiance, in compliance or in repudiation, with good or with bad conscience. The image of man never leaves him, however much he may wish at times to revert to the bliss of animality.”[60]

The impossibility of reverting to animal bliss was regretted by Eshleman as the “fall from the seamless animal web.” Others discussed in this paper spoke of an “ecological original sin” committed by hunters, and Neanderthals were as adept at hunting as Sapients. More generally we have seen that the differentiation of consciousness that Cro-Magnons achieved even while they continued, in a different way, it is true, the hunting life of Neanderthals, had spiritual consequences expressed in the late Pleistocene artistic achievements.

The conclusion to which the argument made in this paper points is this: just as the philosophical anthropological arguments of Jonas (or of Lonergan or Voegelin, for that matter) indicate that humans are physical and animal and something more and that the latter attributes are rooted or grounded in the earlier ones (or, if one prefers, are emergent from them), this insight was recapitulated historically at least to the extent that at some point human beings, Sapients especially, saw themselves as both animal and something-more-than-animal. Arguably, that self-awareness or self-consciousness was initially experienced as the “imaginative turmoil” of the Cro-Magnons and then symbolized most notably in the parietal art of Franco-Cantabria. Such, it seems to me, constitutes a plausible, empirically-based and fairly comprehensive narrative account of proximate anthropogenesis.



[1] See her essay on Isak Dinesen in Men in Dark Times, (New York, Harcourt Brace and Company, 1968) and Charles R. Embry, The Philosopher and the Storyteller: Eric Voegelin and Twentieth-Century Literature, (Columbia, University of Missouri Press, 2008).

[2] Cartmill, A View to a Death in the Morning: Hunting and Nature through History, (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1993), xi.

[3] Ian Hodder made a plea in 1989 to reintroduce narrative and story-line along with dialogue and discussion regarding the actual excavation. He was criticizing the development of archaeological writing over the previous two centuries towards impersonal, abstract, and unscientific (because it obscured real interpretive uncertainties) accounts. See Hodder, “Writing Archaeology: Site Reports in Context,” Antiquity, 63 (1989), 268-74. A decade later James Deetz provided a splendid example of what archaeological writing had become: instead of saying “people used rocks,” we read of “lithic utilization by anatomically modern hominin populations.” See Deetz, “Archaeologists as Storytellers,” Historical Archaeology, 32 (1998), 94. Similar remarks, of course, might be made of current writing in the APSR.

[4] Misia Landau, Narratives of Human Evolution, (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1991), 5.

[5] Rosemary A. Joyce, The Language of Archaeology: Dialogue, Narrative and Writing, (Oxford, Blackwell, 2002), 1-2.

[6] Landau, Narratives, 13.

[7] See my “Neanderthal Politics,” in Brian Leahy and David Walsh, eds., The Human Voyage of Self-Discovery: Essays in Honour of Brendan Purcell, (Dublin, Veritas, 2013), 44-69.

[8] The biological criteria are self-evident. The morphological criteria depend on informed judgment. But event so, Erik Trinkaus, who has probably done more to establish distinct Neanderthal metrics than any other archaeologist, said that he thought that Neanderthals and Sapients would not have seemed much different to one another. See Trinkaus, “Modern Human versus Neandertal Evolutionary Distinctiveness,” Current Anthropology, 47:4 (2006), 597-608. See also Fredrick Turner, In the Land of Temple Caves: From St. Emillion to Paris’s St. Sulpice, (New York, Counterpoint, 2004), 127.

[9] Steven E. Churchill, “Comments” [on Trinkaus] Current Anthropology, 47:4 (2006), 609.

[10] Maciej Henneberg, “Comments” [on Trinkaus] Current Anthropology, 47: 4 (2006), 610.

[11] Henneberg, “Comment,” 610-11.

[12] In The World of the Polis, for example, Voegelin argued that “the movement of a soul toward the truth does not abolish the demonic reality from which it moves away. The order of the soul is nothing on which one can sit down and be happy ever after” (CW,15: 329). See also his remarks in The New Science of Politics, (CW, 5: 231ff).

[13] Tattersall, The Monkey in the Mirror: Essays on the Science of What Makes us Human, (New York, Harcourt, 2002), 138-9.

[14] Tattersall and Jeffrey H. Schwartz, Extinct Humans, (Boulder, Westview, 2000), 210. See also Gillian Beer, Darwin’s Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Fiction, (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983), 114.

[15] Stoczkowski is a Polish scholar living in Paris. The French version of his argument, Anthropologie naïve, Anthropologie savante was published in 1994 (Paris, CNRS). We refer to the translation by Mary Turton, Explaining Human Origins: Myth, Imagination, and Conjecture, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002).

[16] Explaining Human Origins, 49.

[17] Explaining Human Origins, 65-6. Political scientists might be reminded of some interpretations of the differing opinions or stories of Hobbes and Rousseau concerning the “state of nature.”

[18] Explaining Human Origins, 71-2.

[19] Explaining Human Origins, 72.

[20] Explaining Human Origins, 186.

[21] Stoczkowski did not draw a distinction between anthropogenesis, which we take to be a philosophical symbol based on myth and intended to express a meaning, and hominization, which we take to be a paleoscientific concept based on archaeology. A Voegelin, a Lonergan, or a Jonas, for example, was concerned not with the causes of hominization but with the emergent conditions for anthropogenesis. In this context we might mention Vrba and Gould’s notion of “exaptations,” where an initially random genetic mutation later became adaptive and useful as pointing to this problem by attempting to “loosen up” the strict sequence of the dominant paleoscientific account of hominization. See Stephen J. Gould and Elisabeth S. Vrba, “Exaptation: A Missing Term in the Science of Form,” Paleobiology, 8 (1982), 4-15.

[22] Stoczkowski, Explaining Human Origins, 129, 134, 155.

[23] Explaining Human Origins, 171-2; 178.

[24] Explaining Human Origins, 189.

[25] Stoczkowski, Explaining Human Origins, 190-93.

[26] The Last Lost World: Ice Ages, Human Origins and the Invention of the Pleistocene, (New York, Penguin, 2102).

[27] Pyne and Pyne, The Last Lost World, 3, 36-7.

[28] Pyne and Pyne, The Last Lost World, 50, 54.

[29] Pyne and Pyne, The Last Lost World, 98.

[30] See also Richard Wrangham, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made us Human, (New York, Basic Books, 2009).

[31] Pyne and Pyne, The Last Lost World, 10.

[32] Pyne and Pyne, The Last Lost World, 165, 170, 226.

[33] Pyne and Pyne, The Last Lost World, 177.

[34] Pyne and Pyne, The Last Lost World, 37.

[35] There is an extensive discussion among archaeologists over whether the images on the cave walls are properly called art. We will ignore that discussion on the grounds that (1) however interesting and useful such scientific discussion may be, these images are widely referred to as art; and (2) our interest is in the relationship of the producers of these images to the images produced as well as in our own relationship to them. To justify that interest we rely on the authority of Tolstoy: “art causes the receiver to enter into a certain kind of relationship with him who produced, or is producing, the art, and with all those who, simultaneously, receive the same artistic impression.” What is Art? And Essays on Art, trans. A. Maude (London, Oxford University Press, 1930), 71.

[36] Pyne and Pyne, The Last Lost World, 178.

[37] Erik Trinkaus, “Early Modern Humans,” Annual Review of Anthropology, 34 (2005), 207-30; Trinkaus, “European Early Modern Humans and the Fate of the Neandertals,” PNAS, 104 (2007), 7367-72; Trinkaus, “Late Pleistocene Adult Mortality Patterns and Modern Human Establishment,” PNAS, 108 (2011), 1267-71

[38] Pyne and Pyne, The Last Lost World, 196.

[39] Jane M. Renfrew, “Neanderthal Symbolic Behaviour,” in Colin Renfrew and Iain Morley, eds., Becoming Human: Innovation in Prehistoric Material and Spiritual Culture (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2009), 59.

[40] For an account of the external reasons for the concentration of Upper Paleolithic art in Franco-Cantabria, see Paul Mellars, “Cognition and Climate: Why is Upper Paleolithic Cave Art almost Confined to the Franco-Cantabrian Region?” in Renfrew and Morley, eds., Becoming Human, 212-31.

[41] See, for example, Thomas Wynn and Frederick L. Coolidge, How to Think Like a Neandertal, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2012).

[42] This Voegelinian argument regarding experience and symbolization is sufficiently commonplace that it need not be rehearsed here. See, for example: CW, 12: 52ff. or my Consciousness and Politics: From Analysis to Meditation in the Late Work of Eric Voegelin, (South Bend, St. Augustine’s Press, 2015), Ch. 3.

[43] I say more or less flat because the Upper Paleolithic artists also took advantage of the contours of the cave to enhance the effect of their imagery. Indeed, some images can be seen only if the viewer moves, for example, around a corner or into an adjoining passage.

[44] Barbara Oling Alpert, The Creative Ice Age Brain: Cave Art in the Light of Neuroscience, (Santa Fe, Foundation 20/21, 2008), 2.

[45] Middleton, Wesleyan University Press, 2003.The title refers to a juniper tree that had fallen over near the entrance to Lascaux cave the roots of which raised up a large clump of earth creating a pit that eventually led to the cave entrance. It referred as well as to the use of juniper branches as wicks in many of the hand lamps found in the cave.

[46] Juniper Fuse, xvi. It was also at Combarelles that Eshleman discovered that Leroi-Gourhan’s map of the cave “left out a number of figures” that were included in Breuil’s earlier map, figures that were in fact on the walls. This omission, Eshleman said, “was designed to highlight material that supported his [= Leroi-Gourhan’s] overall theory.” Juniper Fuse, 128.

[47] Juniper Fuse, 29.

[48] Juniper Fuse, 46, 86.

[49] Juniper Fuse, xviii, 130-32, 136.

[50] Juniper Fuse, 136.

[51] Eshleman used the term hybrid in its etymological sense of the offspring of a tame sow and a wild boar. Juniper Fuse, 150-1. I have discussed the problem of shamanic mediation in “The First Mystics? Some Recent Accounts of Neolithic Shamanism,” APSA Annual Meeting, 2010. Available at and at: See also my “Two Tellurian Themes in Plato’s Republic,” in Z. Planinc, ed., Politics, Philosophy, Writing: Plato’s Art of Caring for Souls, (Columbia, University of Missouri Press, 2001), 80-121. On hunting as a mediation of wildness and civility, see also Cartmill, A View to a Death in the Morning, 32ff.

[52] Juniper Fire, 154.

[53] Juniper Fuse, 223.

[54] Jonas, The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology, (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, [1966] 1982), 4-5, 81-6, 99-103.

[55] Jonas, Philosophical Essays: From Ancient Creed to Technological Man (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1974), 251-2.

[56] The Phenomenon of Life, 172.

[57] The Phenomenon of Life, 175.

[58] Voegelin’s argument regarding compactness and differentiation, it will be recalled, did not affect the essential humanness of the being whose consciousness was more (or less) differentiated.

[59] The Phenomenon of Life, 181.

[60] The Phenomenon of Life, 185-6.


Also available is “The First Mystics? Some Recent Accounts of Neolithic Shamanism” in part one and two; also see “Human Emergence as Cosmic Metaxy,” “How to Think About Human Origins,” and “From Big Bang to Big Mystery.”

Barry Cooper

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Barry Cooper is a Board Member of VoegelinView and Professor of Political Science at the University of Calgary. He is the author, editor, or translator of more than thirty books and has published over one hundred and fifty papers and book chapters. He writes a regular column in the Calgary Herald.