National Geographic : 1975 Jan
mile inside the hill, and the farthest cham bers with images are almost a mile inside. Obviously Cro-Magnon man painted from memory rather than from a living animal so deep inside the cave. We know that he entered barefoot, for his prints remain on the clay floors. He carried a flaming torch that lasted at least an hour or two, or a dish of oil with a floating wick. The area of Niaux actually offers two sets of paintings and engravings-one in the main cave and another across the valley in a small er rock shelter called La Vache. My plan was to compare the art of the cave and of the shelter and to relate the various images to the prehistoric ecology of the valley. ARCHEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE suggests that the hunters at La Vache lived in the valley somewhat later than the painters of Niaux. But both groups illustrated the same key animals: bison, horse, ibex, deer, and fish. The same favorable hunting climate must have existed in both periods, and the behavior of both the hunters and the ani mals could not have differed much. The engravings of La Vache are extraor dinary for their detail. A bone found in the shelter bears an engraving of a pair of frog's legs. Whether they were an item of diet in Ice Age France, as they are today, we cannot tell. But they are clearly a seasonal image of late spring and summer. A bone knife that shows no evidence of wear on its edges, and was therefore prob ably used for ceremonial or ritual purposes, has an engraved doe on one face, with ser pentine lines suggestive of water above its head (page 83). On the same face of the knife there is the familiar symbol of an ibex head with one crossed-out horn and three abstract flowers in bloom. The images seem to repre sent spring in the foothills, just as those on the Montgaudier deer antler apparently rep resent spring in the lowlands. The other face of the knife may represent autumn, depicting the head of a bison bull with mouth open and tongue out in the bel lowing posture of the autumn rut, or mating season. The plants on this side of the knife are of a different type-perhaps conifers or leafless trees, with what seem to be nuts and one dying flower. Here the Ice Age hunter was depicting spe cies of animals with sexual designations and species of plants at various stages of growth. Harpoons or plants? Images within and to the right of a Lascaux horse were long thought to be harpoons for hunting magic, but the author iden tifies them with other plant images in the cave.