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The Cave Painters: Probing the Mysteries of the World's First Artists

4.03  ·  Rating Details ·  251 Ratings  ·  37 Reviews
The Cave Painters is a vivid introduction to the spectacular cave paintings of France and Spain—the individuals who rediscovered them, theories about their origins, their splendor and mystery.

Gergory Curtis makes us see the astonishing sophistication and power of the paintings and tells us what is known about their creators, the Cro-Magnon people of some 40,000 years ago.
Paperback, 288 pages
Published October 9th 2007 by Anchor (first published 2006)
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If, like myself, you are a neophyte at thinking about prehistory, then I have a proposition for you: Try to imagine 30,000 years of human history. And not abstractly, not by simply saying, "Thirty thousand years. Wow. That's a long time," but by really considering the march of 30,000 years.

In relation to the span of a single human life, a few decades ago seems like a long time. For the more historically-minded, a few centuries or even a millennium might constitute "a long time". The geologist o
Feb 21, 2012 Bruce rated it really liked it
In this easily read and fascinating book, Curtis traces the discovery, archaeological exploration, and evolving explanations related to the spectacular cave paintings found especially in the region of the Pyrenees in southwestern France and northeastern Spain, paintings that have been found to have been painted up to 30,000 years ago. He provides a chronology of their discoveries, including the personalities critical to the finding and exploration of each, and he includes details of the response ...more
Dec 02, 2011 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really fascinating, I immediately want to read another book to learn more (one with more pictures!) Includes a lot of history of science which focuses on the archaeologists and the different flawed interpretations and theories that have come and gone over the past 150 or so years since the cave paintings were discovered and first recognized for what they are. I was less interested in the scientists, but his context helped make clear why interpretation and analogy can be dangerous, and just how l ...more
Reya Kempley
Apr 04, 2012 Reya Kempley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, history
A mixture of history, mystery, and speculation, The Cave Painters is a fascinating and engrossing journey through the history of the study of Europe’s Paleolithic cave art. It begins with an introduction for context, which lays out what we know about the history of humans, focusing on the Paleolithic era. Most of the book deals with the past 100 years or so of study and discovery, since it took us some time to realize that these cave paintings were from the Stone Age in the first place! The idea ...more
Apr 11, 2015 Ron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a readable and insightful history of the study of cave painting as seen through its major practitioners, especially the Abbé Breuil, André Leroi-Gourhan, Max Raphael, Jean Clotte, and many others not so widely known outside the field. Curtis has done thorough research in the major documents, has visited many of the major caves, and has consulted directly with experts in the field, especially Jean Clotte himself, one of the chief figures in the exploration of Chauvet cave. The central cha ...more
Jan 08, 2012 Antonia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I stand by my review when I first read the book in 2012: A wonderful book! Very well researched and well written. For lay readers, this is an excellent introduction to the art of the prehistoric caves and the Cro-Magnons painters (as well as a little about the Neanderthals who preceded and briefly co-existed with them).

Perhaps because Curtis is a journalist, not an archaeologist or anthropologist, this is an extremely readable and enjoyable book. He gives a lot of detail — as well as interesting
Sep 26, 2012 Roberto rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an introductory, but very well written book about european prehistoric cave art. If you knew nothing about the matter, you will end with a decent knowledge about the current understanding on it. If you have read about the subject before, you will find the book very illustrative about the people you read from and find out a couple of things you didn't know, while following a very entertaining narrative, heavily anchored in the southern France landscape.

There is something about prehistoric
Alex Telander
THE CAVE PAINTERS: PROBING THE MYSTERIES OF THE WORLD’S FIRST ARTISTS BY GREGORY CURTIS: It was a special day when Gregory Curtis was vacationing in France with his family and entered some famous caves. When he gazed upon the unique cave paintings for the first time, this book was born. The Cave Painters is a two-part story: one small part the story of the rise of Cro-Magnon, modern humans, and their painting abilities; the rest the history of those people who first discovered the paintings and ...more
Aug 19, 2010 Zjay rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book teaches us about the artists who did the intriguing works in the caves of southern France and northern Spain. Curtis tells us about the discoveries of the caves, but his chief contribution is to examine the scholarly debates during the late 19th and 20th century about this fantastic cave art.

How do we moderns evaluate and “explain” this magnificent cave art that dates back 14,000 to 32,000 years? Should we try to explain this art by comparing it with art produced by 'primitive' people
Anneliese Tirry
Aug 10, 2016 Anneliese Tirry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tijdens ons weekje vakantie in de Dordogne hebben we verschillende grotten en een abri bezocht waar prehistorische kunst te zien was (Font de Gaume, Rouffignac, Abri du Cap Blanc, Combarelles, en ondanks het feit dat ik eerder al de grotten van Gargas en Pech Merle zag, was ik opnieuw danig onder de indruk en wilde ik toch wat meer achtergrondkennis. In één van de winkeltjes kocht ik dit boek.
Het is heel vlot geschreven, enorm toegankelijk, belicht de evolutie van het onderzoek naar deze schilde
Mar 12, 2011 Kerry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thank you, Gregory Curtis, for writing this book. I found it absolutely fascinating. Cave painting is one of the oldest forms of art. It dates back 40-30,000 years in a tradition that continued with consistency for an entire 20,000 years among Europe's first homo sapiens. Unbelievably, the images look familiar and relatable to us today. With the first paleolithic cave discovered only about 200 years ago, the dramatic tale of each cave's discovery, and of the competing theories amongst the prehis ...more
Nicole Marble
Aug 27, 2007 Nicole Marble rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in ancestors
Ice Age cave paintings in Spain and France are beautiful. And many look remarkably similar in style - the side view, the outline with color added to indicate muscle and/or fur. So I was interested in this book 'just because'. But somewhere along the way, the author said that the recently discovered cave at Chauvet was at least 15,000 years older than the long known cave at Lascaux. If you look at the paintings and their style - they are nearly identical. If the dating is correct - and the scient ...more
Sep 15, 2009 Linda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Curtis does a fine job of “probing the mysteries of the world’s first artists” in this readable book on the discovery of the cave paintings in Spain and France, done as much as 18,000 years ago. The paintings in the cave at Altamira were discovered 1879 by the young daughter of Marcelino Sautora, who went to the cave with her father one day and looked up at the walls while he was busy digging in the ground. At first, scientists couldn’t believe that the paintings were prehistoric; now there are ...more
Emily Regier
I can't believe there aren't more books readily available about this topic! I'm glad i found this one, though. It was a real treat to dip my toes into a part of history I barely considered before.

The start of it was a little slow and where it wasn't slow it was a bit dramatic and over-written almost. But halfway through it really picks up because it begins to talk about interpretations and bit more and the behind-the-scenes drama of the archeologists involved. It's nice to read about every theor
Oct 14, 2009 Harry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is far from a perfect book, but it's so well researched and so well written for the layman that I can't help but give it five stars. Because the author's relationship is roughly yours (he's not an expert, just a passionate layperson looking for meaning in the oldest art in the world), it's an excellent introduction to the history of western European cave painting and the anthropological/art arguments around them. The negatives are only that there aren't enough illustrations (thank god for t ...more
Oct 12, 2009 Kara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As someone who was researching Paleolithic paintings for an Art History paper, I found this book extremely helpful. I'm an Art major, not an anthropology major so this was a very good jumping off point and helped me understand the rest of the articles I read. (Most of them were scholarly sludge, which means that it's impossible for people without a degree in radio carbon dating and/or anthropology to make out more than the occasional "the" or "to".)
I have the feeling however that most people who
Oct 08, 2013 Eric rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is really three books in one. The first is a chronology of the discovery of cave art. The second is a history of the various cultures that created the art. The third, an overlap between the first two, is an interpretation of the art, shaped by the struggle between educated guesses as to the mindset of the artists and the personal prejudices of modern-day archaeologists. In short, this is a multi-layered work that can be read more than one way--sort of like the cave art it describes.
Sep 04, 2009 Jimmy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent introduction to the history of the discovery of Paleolithic art, both in terms of archeology and paleontology as well as art history. Just what is meant by the art is only hinted at (and, in truth, can at best only be guessed at, anyway).

If you are looking for a lay person's account (Curtis is a reporter, not a scientist) of early man's art and what might be glimpsed of his imagination, this is a great place to start.
Jul 12, 2010 Liz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, reviewed
I got this book as a gift, and was prepared to find it very boring. I mean, cave paintings. How interesting can that get? I'm glad I was proved wrong.

This book isn't just about cave paintings themselves, it's also the story of the people who find them, the people that look for them, the people that study them, and even the people who made them. There's drama, a little humor, and a healthy dose of awe for what our ancestors were capable of, even in the days before civilization.
Sep 17, 2014 Tiffany rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My only real wish for this book is that it would be updated! I'd really like to know about newer techniques for image analysis and dating, techniques that were hinted at here. Curtis makes no claim to provide an exhaustive catalog of knowledge about cave art, but he does a splendid job of making things clear to the novice.
Aug 05, 2011 Ron rated it it was amazing
While the theories in artistic analysis that call these works 'hunting magic' are a bit far fetched for me (I believe human burial just 60,000 years earlier makes a case for the paintings as funerary; something no one has yet suggested in all of the research I've read), this is still a worthy overview of the most fascinating art known to man.
Lewis Weinstein
We saw the caves at Lascaux, then read this book. It is incredible to imagine people, perhaps 14,000 years ago, making these drawings. How were decisions made about who would paint and what would be painted? The artists had to be supported, so the community must have provided food and other necessities.
Jackie Mclean
Jul 15, 2012 Jackie Mclean rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most fascinating books I've read. Wonderful descriptions of cave paintings, the stories of those who discovered them, and theories about what they could have meant, along with a real insight into the kind of people our distant ancestors were.
Jessica Liew
A great read on a topic rarely covered in such detail. Not the dry history that one often encounters. The exploration of various theories on cave art is done judiciously and a complete picture of the art and those who have studied it is given.
Jan 29, 2011 Beth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating look at the cave paintings in France and Spain. A short and easy read that made we want to explore this subject more. The author really communicated how magnificent the paintings are and provided the historical context very well.
Jul 28, 2008 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Things learned: The cave paintings are not hunting pictures; the oldest art is not the crudest, with the artists getting "better" over time. The oldest art found so far -- 30,000 years old -- is probably the most illusionistic and skillfully done.
Oct 19, 2008 Suzi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: High school reader or someone just wanting an introduction to Cave Paintings
Recommended to Suzi by: Dr. Ramsey and the Scholars Program
A good introduction to the world of cave paintings and it def. piqued my interest, but it was not as scientific or unbiased as I had hoped. Still good for the high school aged reader.
Oct 13, 2011 Trish rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book summed up the research and excavations of the large caves of France and Spain with cave art. The author gave his own thoughts on what it can all mean.
Thijs te Velde
Jun 10, 2014 Thijs te Velde rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved it.
Donovan Foote
Apr 20, 2012 Donovan Foote rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
A thought provoking read. Probably the most interesting book I've read so far on cave painting and like any good non-fiction it points you towards a dozen other books.
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