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PROFILE OF THE ANCIENTS: The Cave Paintings at Lascaux as Projective Test

March 31st, 2011 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 614 views | Send article | Print this Article |

By Robert DePaolo


This article sidesteps the usual rigor or scientific inquiry in order to engage in a novel, hopefully interesting endeavor. It applies a methodology more often used in the field of clinical psychology to address issues that might be of interest to both psychologists and paleoanthropologists, specifically by analyzing the ancient cave paintings at Lascaux as though they were responses on a projective test. This analysis is not intended to meet standards inherent in social sciences research. It is speculative, and offered as grist for the mill regarding the roots of human nature. Under the best of circumstances it might provide answers to tantalizing questions not yet answered. To wit: What were the ancient cave people really like in terms of temperament, cognitive range and personality? How did they conceptualize their world? Was their mindset at all similar to ours and how did they adapt psychologically to the dire circumstances of the most recent Ice Age? While the following discussion is conjectural methods typically used in the clinical assessment of projective test results are employed. In that context, this article aspires to, at the very least, a face validity regarding certain functional aspects of the Cro-Magnon personality.

The Projective Hypothesis…

While a number or psychological tests are defined as “projectives,” this analysis adheres to interpretive standards typified by the Rorschach, Thematic Apperception Test and House-Tree-Person (or Human Figure) Drawings. Each of these tests has separate scoring standards as well as interpretive peculiarities. The Rorschach provides information that includes content, spatial location, sequence of responses, size of percept, use of determinants such as color, movement, shading and textural features (Rankin 1997).Kleiger 1997), (Rorschach 1942), Acklin 1996). The TAT relies more on factors such as “press” and character identification, as conveyed in the client’s narrative response to picture cards.(Holmstrom 1990). Meanwhile the House-Tree-Person utilizes size, symbolic features such as the posture, placement of hands, vigilance as purveyed through the eyes of the figures and structural detail as indications of social need gratification and ego functions. (Cantlay 1996).

Despite these variations, all projective tests are based on the idea of symbolization – the notion that the drawings, percepts or stories are reflections of internal as well as external factors, i.e. not just what the client seen in his environment but also what he thinks about it and about himself.


Projective tests are typically interpreted cautiously, for several reasons. Tests like the Rorschach, House-Tree-Person, Thematic Apperception Test involve what might be called an “interpretive threshold.” It is the point at which tendencies such as artistic ability, perceptual-motor skills and recent experience interface with the core dynamics of the personality. Because of that overlap, the clinician must ask whether the drawings, percepts and stories reflect primarily the psychology of the client, or whether factors such as “real world perceptions,” and/or intellectual or artistic limitations exert the strongest influence on the client’s responses.

In that context the “pull” of the projective stimulus (inkblot, story card, etc.) is very important. That was taken into consideration in formulating this analysis. To some extent the external factor is controlled for by the test format; for example the Rorschach scoring protocol includes what are called “popular responses.” These are statistically derived and if high in number indicate that the client’s thought process is consistent with social norms. There are similar corrective features in the TAT and H-T-P. However since very little is known about Cro-Magnon’s social mores, interpretation of the Lascaux paintings required several leaps of faith.

However lack of knowledge of the Cro-Magnon weltanschauung is not seen as an insurmountable barrier. In order to gain a sense of their social and behavioral norms this writer resorted to evolutionary psychological principles; specifically social and behavior patterns typical of most mammals and all primates; for example, sexual competition, social hierarchies and a fervent drive to protect and preserve the genetic line. (Buss 2004), (Barkow 1992), (Wilson 2000), (Wilson 1978) It is a potentially useful but obviously imperfect approach

Snags: Then vs. Now…

Since we don’t have a clear understanding of the European Cro-Magnon mindset circa 20,000 B.C.E. (the approximate time of the cave paintings) the traditional projective methods may or may not be applicable. While it appears homo sapiens’ brain evolved to roughly its current form and cognitive capacities about 150,000 years ago, (Wilson, Carlson et al 1977), Spitzer & Spitzer 2010),(Stringer 1994.) it is hard to tell what that means by modern standards. The brains of hominids (upright walking precursors to our species) expanded rapidly in the course of evolution and during the time Cro-Magnon occupied various parts of Western Europe were probably about the same size as that of modern man.

But cerebral development is not just evolutionary or genetic. Experience creates pathways that once culturally crystallized can change brain networks just as readily as genetic mutations – perhaps even more so. For example, despite theories by Vygotsky (Van der Veer1991) and Chomsky (1965) pertaining to innate human language structure the Slavic peoples living in the vicinity of modern day Bulgaria in Medieval times lacked a sophisticated enough language (i.e had no alphabet) and as result remained submissive to the more linguistically and culturally advanced Byzantine Empire. The Slavic peoples certainly had language, but the orchestration and internal structure of what they said, and by inference what they thought, might have been quite different from their more advanced counterparts. Perhaps for that reason they were singularly militaristic and unable to expand their vistas and frame of reference. Once Cyril and his brother Methodius introduced an alphabet system into the Slavic language the Slavic mindset changed and their society advanced rapidly.

Similar trends occurred when Gothic tribes were exposed to Latin which allowed for more discriminatory thinking simply because its grammatical structure enable them to vary labels, expand vocabularies, categorize multiply and still convey meaning due to the existence of language rules (Newman 2008 ).

Cro-Magnon’s skull and by inference his brain, were slightly different from ours, with a somewhat larger cranial capacity and longer lower skulls. That might have had implications for intellectual and creative potentials but it was also true that since he had a shorter life span, did not write or read and had virtually no capacity to store knowledge outside his brain his cognitive range might have been well below our own. In fact it is conceivable that the existence of the cave paintings represents nothing more than a cephalic awakening, ie. a point in human brain evolution where neural circuits for vision, fine motor prowess, cognition and memory crossed a creative threshold and virtually forced an epoch of artistic expression. That possibility is dismissed here because the paintings were lush with detail, clearly coming from the primordial brush of a well-practiced artisan. The sudden emergence of a skill would not result in such proficiency.

The fact that we don’t know much about the topography of Cro-Magnon’s language presents a problem. Still, the assumption here is that some of the basic components of the human/primate mind have persisted over time; particularly the need to explain and control various aspects of the nature and were thus imbedded in the minds of homo since prior to the Cro-Magnons’ arrival in Europe.

Two final comments on methodology. The typical psycho-diagnostic procedure involves one client at a time. There are no group Rorchach test protocols, at least for clinical purposes. Thus to employ the traditional approach would require a stipulation that one person did all the drawings or that the group mindset was so interwoven by interdependency that the motives and emotions of one person could be assumed to reflect those of the entire group. One would also have to assume either that the paintings were all done at roughly the same time or in some proximal sequence. The analysis below operates on those assumptions, adopting the premise that in a small tribe the influence of one person upon another would have been more substantial than is seen in convenient and less socially dependent modern society.

Protocol: The Paintings at Lascaux…

There are roughly 1500 distinct caricatures at Lascaux. The paintings are heavily thematic in that only three types of animals are depicted: deer, bison and horses. The animal depictions convey a projective essence in that they transcend physical parameters, thus were not likely intended to be merely physical or historical. Allowing for artistic license the painters might have used embellishment as a function of the creative impulse in a way analogous to Picasso’s cubist, angular version of the human face. Yet there are still many incongruities in the paintings. A bull is drawn over a span of six meters – well beyond actual size. Horses are drawn in colors that probably did not reflect their actual appearance; some pinkish, some dark red, some pitch black. Unless these species were quite different than those of today, those colors would seem to some extent internally drive, ie. a function of the artists’ psyche rather than an object depiction of the animals around him. The thematic dispersion of the paintings is also curious. One hall is devoted exclusively to bulls – a highly masculine symbol.
Beyond that, the animals depicted are not the game animals typically hunted by Cro-Magnon – reindeer.
Assuming food finding was a critical aspect of life, worthy of symbolic representation, one could ask why no game animals per se are seen on the wall.

Another interesting facet of the paintings is that in any given scene there are vast differences in artistic ability and “take” on the animal subjects. In one scene the legs of a horse are drawn with fine strokes and torso dominates the anatomical features. The feet are proportionate and the head is enlarged. Right beside this drawing is another horse; this one small,, colored all black with rougher features such as rocking horse legs, unusually large feet and much less detail. To a seasoned clinician familiar with figure drawing protocols, it would seem as though two different people were responsible for this scene; one an adult, the other a child. Might this artistic endeavor have comprised a father and son (or family) bonding activity, or perhaps an instructive process whereby youth were taught about the environmental vicissitudes, i.e imminent dangers, what to hunt , what to avoid, perhaps what to worship?

A number of theories have been put forth about the meaning of the cave paintings. Some had surmised that Cro-Magnon was a skilled astronomer who was superimposing star constellations upon the animal bodies in a kind of mystical endeavor. The evidence used to support this assumption comes from the artists’ use of black dots on the heads of bulls and deer. Depending on one’s visual perspective these dot arrangements might resemble star constellations. On the other hand almost any visual configuration might do the same. Star gazing is itself somewhat “projective.” Since Cro-Magnon did not have agriculture – the usual reason ancient peoples were concerned with the sky – it seems unlikely he was drawing constellations, particularly on the head of a bull. More likely he was depicting something mathematical…perhaps “saw four horses,” “ fled from three bulls” or perhaps…”saw the bulls migrate three days ago – time to pack up and follow the herds.” Or perhaps the dots were a symbolic statement of the creature’s perceived status. Here the writer chooses to invoke Occam’s Razor in opting for simpler explanations.

Other theories refer to spiritual antecedents, drug-induced trances fomenting the artistic impulse while still another holds that the paintings were an archaic form of graffiti drawn by adolescents. Some of those assumptions might have merit, though they have a suspiciously… 60s-baby boomer sensibility which might not be terribly reflective of the Cro-Magnon mind.

Here the focus is on what the drawings say about the psyche of Cro-Magnon, regardless of what impulse, motives or directive led to these magnificent depictions. With that in mind, consider the following discussion.


Response Determinant # 1. The Size of the Cave Paintings.

The depictions at Lascaux are unusual and in some ways surprising to anyone who visits the site because they are incredibly large. That would seem to indicate that the artist and his fellows placed great importance on the subjects depicted. Unless the drawings were awkward (i.e. metric) attempts to convey actual size – which would suggest a very concrete, or perhaps only minimally symbolic cognitive capacity – it would seem these animals typically aroused a great sense of anticipation and anxiety. Similar to the way in which a “vista” response on the Rorschach suggests anxiety based on submission or inferiority, it would seem the Cro-Magnons placed themselves below, or at best on par with the imposing creatures depicted on the wall. One could argue that the paintings might symbolize people (an argument that will be considered later). Yet the fact that animals were chosen as a mode of expression is still indicative.

As mentioned above, it is possible the creature-drawings are symbolic, referring to people in a way analogous to the native American use of animal-person names in more recent times. On the other hand, aside from the depiction of a small “bird-man” there are no human drawings at Lascaux.

Beyond that, even the paintings and depictions of humans by groups who followed the Cro-Magnons were miniscule, stick figure drawings, very much in contrast to the elaborate paintings of animals at Lascaux and Altamira. Given that trend it would seem the Cro-Magnons did not feel they had a unique place in nature or that they were special in any way. That is not surprising since they lived well prior to the advent of the Sumerian. Egyptian and Hebrew cultures which espoused man-centered legal and religious doctrines.

The predominance of large animal drawings suggests the Cro-Magnons had a substantially different mindset than modern man. In effect it would seem that while we acknowledge features like the self, identity and individuation, they did not. To the contrary it would appear they were almost exclusively eco-centric rather than egocentric – with a kind of pre-Freudian psychic structure. Perhaps small tribes living in a hostile environment with enormous daily survival pressures required a detachment from the self in favor of group ultra-cohesion and an extraordinary dependence on nature. In other words, introspection might have been a maladaptive thought process back then.

In that context, it might be that internal conflict regarding unmet needs, guilt, rejection anxiety, depression and psychasthenia were atypical or even absent, simply because despite their modern sized brains the size of the social group and the pressures from the environment obviated both the need and search for internal equanimity. That would perhaps explain how they prevailed psychologically.

It is something one can assess empathically. For example what would a modern human do if he found himself living in a cold place, with sparse flora, who could only subsist by hunting incredibly large animals with few tools of convenience, and in which hunting-related deaths and frequent starvation were fairly common? To cope might require adoption of a new outlook in which death and suffering were not viewed as traumatic but as simply part of life’s course.

Consequently it is conceivable that the Cro-Magnons’ perception of death was not nearly as urgent or intimidating as ours. That in turn would have made them a kind of daredevil race of people; ready and willing to hop on the back of a huge bison as one’s fellow hunters waited for the takedown with axes raised.

The strong level of dependency among tribe members might have had moral implications, which preceded Freud’s model of the guilt-based superego but served a similar purpose – avoidance of social ostracism. Given the need for the tribe to remain solid, social rules might have been fairly rigid, punishments conceivably severe. That would have implications in how Cro-Magnon thought about love and social interaction.

The dilemma of, on one hand having to maintain social order via punishment to ensure group survival and on the other having to keep as many members around as possible to provide food, shelter and defense might have comprised something analogous to a neurosis for the Cro-Magnons. One suspects that since any decision to punish, banish or kill a member would have required great deliberation. Whether those decisions were made by an elder, a dominant male, or perhaps via some sort of consensus raises interesting questions in any event.

Response Determinant # 2 – The Location of the Drawings.

The fact that many of the scenes at Lascaux were drawn in the far recesses of the cave network might be diagnostically indicative as well. The exact reason why is hard to determine. Working in solace could indicate something as simple as the artist’s need for privacy, away from social chit chat and crying infants – much like the modern male who gets away by spending hours on end in his garage tinkering with his car. Or it could be as complicated and profound as a religious practice, analogous to the privileged gathering of high priests in the recesses of Solomon’s temple.

Another factor to consider is whether the average Cro-Magnon was allowed to enter into those recesses, and if so under what conditions. Hidden, abstract or dually proffered (alternative response) perceptions on projective tests suggest dereistic thinking, which in itself could be construed as shaman-like or psychopathological, depending on the circumstances. In either case the choice of a remote space, overlap of creature and symbol in the caricature and the content of the painting could signify that the artist felt he had entered a place where extreme vigilance was required, where anxiety and fear might prevail; a forbidden place associated with deleterious outcomes.

Going to that place would obviously entail great risk and should an individual wander into the forbidden space and come out intact, two results might ensue. First, the individual’s conquest of the hidden space would lead to resolution by the tribe, and possible ceremonial acknowledgement. Second, once the hidden space was occupied, the tribe – more specifically the brave individual who “planted the flag” – would want to solidify the conquest by in effect, marking territory.

Thus he might paint a story about his tribe; the cave paintings bearing witness to the lives, habits and experiences of his people – the oldest of all testaments. If so, the paintings could be construed as a message intended for someone or something inhabiting the cave either physically or spiritually.

At face value those options that might sound either homo-centrically spiritual or pantheistic. If the former, it might imply that the Cro-Magnons adhered to a belief analogous to Manifest Destiny. The paintings conveyed a message to a creator, saying in effect… “Having seized this precious and safe area of the cave (and either deposed or avoided dangerous animals in the process) it is now our territory. With respect to this spot and we are now a self-determining people. May the great spirit/ creator sanction this action.”

On the other hand if the message had a natural, rather than spiritual intent one could assume the “audience” was the animals themselves. That would have amounted to an anthropocentric reversal whereby Cro-Magnon believed animals around him could think in roughly the same way he did –almost as if in the Garden of Eden following Adam and Eve’s demotion.

On virtually all projective tests the drawing of disproportionately large heads signifies some sort of proneness to mentation; be it fantasy, worry, anticipatory thinking or internalization of emotions. (Reynolds 1998) The Lascaux drawings feature unusual head prominence for almost all the creatures depicted. This lncludes large, focused eyes, specific glances and a intently oriented sensorium. The sense one gets in looking at the Lascaux paintings is one in which the animals’ “wheels are turning.”
Perhaps due to a lack of technology and letters back then the idea that animals were on par with man wasn’t far off the mark. If that was how the Cro-Magnons saw things it would have led to a rather intense conflict, possibly leading to enhanced creativity in A way envisioned by Freud. The conflict consisted of a worshipful attitude toward large, strong, fast and magnificent rivals vs. the need to avoid them, compete with them, use them as guides to migration and resources and hunt them down for food and clothing. The amelioration of any conflict usually requires some sort of ceremonial or symbolic ritual. In that context the paintings might have been placed in the cave recess as a triadic statement of tribute, conquest and thanksgiving.

Response Determinant #3 – Movement, Color, Shading and Spatial Factors

Many of the paintings at Lascaux are conveyed in black and gray tones and most convey movement. While it is hard to draw comparisons between Lascaux and the Rorschach shading response it does seem the ancients were able to use ochre in fairly creative ways. They were certainly able to choose colors, as is indicated by the existence of more elaborately colored cave paintings in Lascaux and Altamira, Spain. In that context, the paintings at Lascaux can arguably be assessed in terms of color and shading features. The use of black and grayish tones would seem to point to a heightened level of anxiety, perhaps not of the existential variety but from an external source – larger, faster potentially harmful creatures. The anxiety might have arisen from conflict between fear of the sheer power of the animals and Cro-Magnon’s dependency on them. The exaggerated torsos of the animals, as compared to small mouths, short, spindly legs and disproportionately small hindquarters suggest the animals might have been viewed as a source of nurturance. Once again, since conflict can be prelude to ceremonial resolutions, it is conceivable that religious concepts pertaining to both the animal and the hunt itself took place.

Assuming that in Cro-Magnon’s mind the separation of self vs other creatures was a bit blurred, ie. man and other animals as two sides of the same coin, then another interesting determinant involving space can be seen in the arrangement of the animals. When a male and female are shown together the male is either running or somehow positioned ahead of the female. If representational and projective, that suggests that the Cro-Magnons lived in a patriarchal society – with one exception. Depictions of pregnant female deer show an exaggeration of the abdomen, which clearly highlights emotionally as well as visually the importance of the birth process. Since it appears the Cro-Magnons were nomadic, following prey on their migrations, since the climate was harsh, the infant mortality rate high and since the spread of diseases within the group were probably fairly common, adding new members to the tribe would have been tantamount to a miraculous event. That would have meant pregnant females had an inherently higher status. If so, it would imply – to the possible consternation of some – that the classic notion of “femininity” might have paleontological roots.

Beyond positioning, the movement patterns of the creatures are intriguing. In many instances animals are depicted as going in opposite directions – a most unlikely scenario under any set of circumstances. Since Rorschach movement percepts imply internal processing in the forms of fantasy, juxtaposition of personal need upon outside circumstances and wish fulfillment, this depiction could represent a fervent hope that the discordant movement patterns of prey would lead to their separation and expedite the hunt.

Yet fleeing in opposite directions renders prey more vulnerable, and might not have been what actually occurred. Such an apparent incongruity suggests the paintings might be a symbolic representation of human motives, specifically about males in conflict in a way reminiscent of Freud’s belief that (incestual) sexual rivalry threatened the solidarity of first human groups.
Freudian theory features a clash between the id and superego and subsequent advent of a modulating psychic mechanism – the ego. It is probably not applicable to Cro-Magnon. To the contrary, one might logically assume that for small tribes living in precarious circumstances, with a penchant for giving birth to one offspring at a time that sex would have been avaricious rather than guilt-ridden.

However a different, equally urgent source of conflict might have occupied the Cro-Magnons. It would have pitted the need for social order (quintessentially important in a small group living in harsh environs) against the need to maintain adequate numbers (because those harsh conditions required maximal use of manpower). Due to the survival-based need for group solidarity (which exceeded in important the Freudian consequences of guilt and rejection) one might assume this conflict was ingrained in the Cro-Magnon psyche.

Certainly sexual impulse would have factored into this process. For example jealousy was probably as prevalent among these people as it is among modern humans and primates. One can also assume a certain amount of infidelity – call it sexual opportunism to correct for differences in mores – took place, leading to protest, dissention, aggression or worse.

In that context one could surmise that in the aftermath of an antisocial act, the question of whether to ostracize or forgive the offender had to be raised. Either choice could have negative consequences for group survival, particularly if the offender happened to be both a sociopath and a daring, adept hunter (in many instances the two traits might have gone together). If that type of conflict permeated the lives and thoughts of Cro-Magnon, one can assume that either some sort of ethic arose to formulate group behavior norms or that some rationale for forgiveness was employed when the need for manpower outweighed the pitfalls of disorderly conduct.

This does not prove that Cro-Magnon had anything like religion or law – although prototypes were probably in place. However the combined factors of human nature, group size, manpower requirements and the conditions in which he lived would seem to require a moral logic typified by proportionate thinking; perhaps something analogous to the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” maxim in the Old Testament.

With regard to the projective material in the cave paintings, there is a caveat. If males moving in opposite directions symbolize oppositional behavior then one would not expect this to be a prevalent pattern in the paintings. It is not. For example one painting shows a large, elaborately drawn female facing to the left. The others, including offspring, are rather plainly drawn and are facing to the right. The female seems to be “embarking on her own path.” She is more imposing, elegant and at the forefront in the painting. In that context, could “opposite” symbolize “distinction,” specifically between higher and lower ranking members of the group?

If so, that would not necessarily conflict with the antisocial interpretation. In the primate and human worlds the coupling of leadership and conflict/insurrection are frequent occurrences. In that sense the Cro-Magnon artist might simply have been describing a tumultuous but not uncommon social process.

In any event, the potential duress involved in living in a tribe with jealous, protective and solicitous members would have made the social dynamic less than idyllic. To both need and be angry with another is a dilemma not easily resolved. As Freud implied, such pervasive conflict might have led to frequent departures by young males seeking their own mates and territory – a pattern also seen among the Great Apes.

Yet if the movement of males in opposite directions is indicative of conflict then a dearth of physical aggression is equally interesting. This suggests that some modulating mindset (or set of social rules) might have prevailed within the tribe. If valid that suggests moral tenets such as group cooperation, fidelity, sexual restraint and some of the admonishments later provided in Hammurabi’s laws and the Ten Commandments might derive from prior biosocial or even evolutionary processes.

Response Determinant # 4 – Content…

Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of the drawings is that few if any of the drawings of male figures show a penis. Assuming that, notwithstanding the male-competitive angle, sexual practices within a small tribe might have been what one might call liberal (the idea of “going forth to multiply” might never have been more important than during the Ice Age) then it would seem difficult to explain this trend.

One possibility is that the figures were drawn by a child (most unlikely). Another is that this particular Cro-Magnon culture did espouse a modicum of sexual restraint, perhaps a quasi-ethic of modesty as well. Their solution to the problem of necessarily heightened sexual activity (to ensure adequate group numbers) and the need for cohesion-sustaining sexual restraint might have required an ethic prescribing specific mating patterns in something analogous to a bio-functional marriage. In other words members could go forth and multiply as long as it was with a single or circumscribed number of mates as per the approval of the group.

Making the relative absence of penises even more perplexing is that other male sexual features such as antlers, upper torsos are embellished in the drawings. Also one drawing of a male is white, with elaborate spotting. As discussed above this could have represented a mathematical concept – or indeed, a constellation of stars. However from an evolutionary stand point it seems more likely to signify that sexual ostentation (pea-cocking) was generally accepted.

In the few instances where penises were drawn they were fully erect and disproportionately large. Add that females were typically drawn in more esthetic, slender and colorful fashion and it appears sex was as paramount on their minds as it is on ours today. Then why omit the genitals? Why the apparent conflict between modesty and ostentation?

One possible explanation is that these people were adept at compartmentalizing experience. Perhaps they were uniquely able to shift their focus from hunting to sex to other activities depending on time and place. In that case sex would have been considered an isolated phenomenon – maybe even subject to seasonal, ritualistic enactment, rather than being the all-consuming concern it is in modern society. The fact that this contradicts Freud’s notion that the libido drives much of human motives and behavior is understandable. Freud developed his theory in post Victorian times. Perhaps Cro-Magnon, whose libido might not have been repressed, pent up or predominant in this thinking, saw no need to be overly concerned with one aspect of life. He lived in a time with no medicine, no guarantees, no support, only success or failure, life or death. He was thus forced into a very busy life style that was very much in the moment. Singular focus was crucial. Distraction could prove deadly.


Amidst this highly speculative analysis, it is possible to form a psychodynamic picture of the Cro-Magnons – or at least the artist (s) who painted at Lascaux. The group inhabiting these cave dwellings might have been a highly compartmentalizing people, brave hearted to the core, much less concerned with death and self preservation than their modern ancestors. Family was important but since tribal integrity was prerequisite to group survival some degree of tolerance led to moderation of conflict; either by rules, religion, leader intervention or simple pragmatism. Cro-Magnon seems to have had a strong need for nurturance and no misgivings about his dependence on creatures around him. His view of self was virtually nonexistent – he was almost solely focused on the outside world and its moment to moment effect on him and his group. His social structure seems to have been primarily patriarchal but pregnant women were likely assigned a very high rank. Cro-Magnon might not have exhibited the sexual inhibitions seen today. Nor was he atavistically, inexorably obsessed with sex. Given his urgent life style all activities were grounded in survival dynamics such that sex – a potentially alienating factor – might well have been sanctioned only with regard to certain mates, times and places. It might even have placed second to food procurement as a primary concern.

Cro-Magnon might not have had a system of gods but his perceived parity with other animals, especially those whose girth and ferocity could cause injury or death prompted a sense of reverence. These animals had a place in Cro-Magnon’s heart as well as his mind and stomach and could have provided inspiration for ceremonies and rituals.

While existential crises often result from self-probing it appears Cro-Magnon did not contemplate “the self” very much. Whereas modern people might view that as an intellectual shortcoming, such a “deficit” might have provided a psychic cushion against the harsh climate and sparse conditions of the Ice Age.

In other words Cro-Magnon’s ostensibly naïve, external focus and lack of interest in identity were particularly adapted to that time and place.

While the self did not occupy his thoughts very much males appear to have been competitive. The group did adhere to hierarchical dynamics which led to trading trinkets and other objects. His practice of retreating into the far recesses of caves to paint his “projectives” might have been fueled by hope on the hunt, a belief that tributes and messages to other animals (whom he felt had cognitive abilities similar to his own) might have been for purposes of solidifying territory and/or protecting the tribe. In short his behavior seems to have been super-functional, not terribly contemplative, wasteful or obsessive. He acted and thought as circumstances required, then probably rested until the next crisis arose. His anxiety was in (and out of) the moment, his fear easily overcome due to a more pragmatic view of life and death. He might well have understood that just as other creatures live and die within the purview of nature’s whim so should he and his people.


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