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Natural Sciences

32 Symbols found in Ancient Caves from Europe

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“I often find myself wondering what drove these people to go so deep to brave dangerous and narrow passageways to leave their mark?”

Engraved figures from Grotta dell’Addaura in Sicily, from TEDx Conference with Genevieve von Petzinger (2015)

“Geometric signs have long been considered as important, and no cave art researcher has neglected them, at least since Leroi-Gourhan’s seminal work in the mid-1960’s. What is new and exciting in Genevieve von Petzinger’s research is, thanks to the possibilities of the computer, she has completed a data base of the geometric signs from 146 painted caves, attempting to analyse their relationships to one another.” (Bradshaw Foundation)

“The repetition of the same signs, for so long, and at so many sites tells us that the artists were making intentional choices. If we’re talking about geometric shapes, with specific, culturally recognized, agreed-upon meanings, than we could very well be looking at one of the oldest systems of graphic communication in the world. (…)

The oldest systems of graphic communication in the world — Sumerian cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphs, the earliest Chinese script, all emerged between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago, with each coming into existence from an earlier protosystem made up of counting marks and pictographic representations, where the meaning and the image were the same. So a picture of a bird would really have represented that animal. It’s only later that we start to see these pictographs become more stylized, until they almost become unrecognizable and that we also start to see more symbols being invented to represent all those other missing words in language — things like pronouns, adverbs, adjectives.” (Genevieve von Petzinger)

Evolution of pictographic representations, from TEDx Conference with Genevieve von Petzinger (2015)
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Ernst Haeckel, Specimen of radiolaria (a type of marine Protozoa)

Ernst Haeckel

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Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) was a German scientist and artist who discovered thousands of new species, described and named life forms, invented biology terms and wrote numerous scientific studies during his lifetime. He is best known for his beautiful illustrations ranging from micro-organisms to human genealogical trees. In the 1850s, just after cell theory had been formulated, he was one of many students excited to make discoveries in a field that wasn’t yet fully developed, though he soon became dissatisfied with what felt like an unfulfilling scientific practice. In the late 1870s, however, while looking through a microscope at grains of sand, Haeckel began to sketch the mineral-shell specimens called radiolarians. It was through these drawings that his passion for science was reignited and he set out to map every type of marine life, seeing radiolarians as a “key to the creative power of nature.” 

Ernst Haeckel, Various species of Siphonophoral (in the same class as hydras).
Ernst Haeckel, Specimen of red algae (Rhodophyceae).

Haecklel’s meticulous drawings gave a visual power to Darwin’s theory, helping him defend and spread his work. In 1868, his illustrated findings became a bestselling book entitled Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte.  It was translated to English in 1876 as The History of Creation. But years of struggle also haunted Haeckel – he was subjected to harsh criticism by his scientific colleges of the time as he tried to integrate artistic and scientific practices. Even so, his scientific and artistic output was so extensive and prolific that even Darwin credited him in The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, saying that if Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte “had appeared before my essay had been written, I should probably never have completed it.” (wiki)

“Proteus: A Nineteenth Century Vision, by Director David Lebrun, 2004”
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The images on this page are not authored by Lines & Marks. They are shared under “fair use” for non-profit, educational and reference purposes, and may be subject to copyright. If for any reason this status is contested, notify us and we will remove the image(s) immediately. All other, © Lines & Marks, 2015.

Seth Boyden | “An Object at Rest”

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“An Object at Rest” follows the life of a stone as it travels over the course of millennia, facing nature’s greatest obstacle: human civilization. Seth Boyden on Vimeo | Blog | Online Sketchbook

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Conversations about Drawing

“Cave of Forgotten Dreams” | Werner Herzog

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“Maybe they in the future will find other caves with even older paintings and evidence of human and artistic work. But this is the first evidence of the modern human soul.”

Chauvet Cave, from “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” by Werner Herzog (2010)
Official Trailer for Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams.” (2010)
Introduction to the Cave Art Paintings of the Chauvet Cave from the Bradshaw Foundation. Learn more about the Bradshaw Foundation’s work in Chauvet Cave.
3D Map of Chauvet Cave, from “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” by Werner Herzog (2010)

“Cave of Forgotten Dreams” was inspired by “First Impressions,” an article written by Judith Thurman for The New Yorker and published in 2008. But she, like the many filmmakers who had also petitioned the French government since Chauvet was discovered in 1994, never got permission to enter the cave and was forced to work from drawings and videos at the site.

Mr. Herzog succeeded where others failed, said Erik Nelson, the film’s producer, by becoming a temporary employee of the French government (for the symbolic payment of 1 euro) and giving France’s Ministry of Culture copies of the raw footage for noncommercial purposes. “I was kind of astounded that Werner got in,” Ms. Thurman said. “Getting permission to film in there was in itself a great feat of cultural diplomacy.” (read the full article, Prehistoric Cave With a Hornet on the Wall by Larry Rohter, on the New York Times)

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The images on this page are not authored by Lines & Marks. They are shared under “fair use” for non-profit, educational and reference purposes, and may be subject to copyright. If for any reason this status is contested, notify us and we will remove the image(s) immediately. All other, © Lines & Marks, 2015.

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Conversations about Drawing
Leonardo da Vinci, Anatomical study of a human skull.

The Secret of Drawing | Ep.1, The Line of Enquiry

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This four part BBC series, presented by Andrew Graham-Dixon, explores how drawing has shaped our lives. Ep. 1 looks at artists who have chosen the natural world as their subject matter and explores how drawing has helped man to understand his place in the universe. The programme covers the Renaissance, the Eastern way, Turner, Constable and contemporary artists Anthony Gormley and Richard Long.

The Line of Enquiry
Season 1 | Episode 1
Aired date: 

Andrew Graham-Dixon takes a look at the many ways in which drawing has connected us with the natural world and also how it has helped advance scientific enquiry, from the Italian Renaissance right through to today. In this first edition, he meets a surgeon whose study of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings of the heart has led him to develop a radical new form of cardiac operation, uncovers a remarkable 200 year-old series of drawings of the moon, and encounters some of the actual preserved birds drawn by the great American ornithologist John James Audubon.

The Secret of Drawing Series is the property of the BBC and is subject to copyright. Header video is the work of SI Scott.

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