Cave paintings are graffiti by prehistoric yobs

For decades, they have been presented as pioneers of creativity who left a rich legacy of artistic expression. But recent research has revealed that Stone Age cave painters were little more than sexually charged, intoxicated teenagers intent on vandalism.

In the legendary Lascaux caves in France's Dordogne, there are indeed colourful scenes of deer and woolly mammoths. But the majority of prehistoric work shows little more than human genitalia crudely scratched into stone.

"In schools all over the world, you go to the toilets and far enough back in the toilet booth you'll start seeing these same sexual images," said Professor Dale Guthrie, a US-based expert in the field. In his new book, The Nature of Palaeolithic Art, he argues that most ancient artists were motivated by the most powerful force known to early man - sex.

The claims were made by Professor Guthrie's team after examining 3,000 ancient images. "That adolescent giggles echoed in dark cave passages demeans neither artists nor art," said Professor Guthrie. "Why did they do it? Well, it was fun."

Professor Guthrie used forensic techniques to study one of the most common shapes represented: human handprints. By comparing them to the hands of nearly 1,000 modern people, he found that they were mostly made by adolescent boys. He also found prints from all ages and both sexes.

But palaeontologists have criticised the claims. Sheff- ield University's Paul Pettitt, who discovered Britain's first example of palaeolithic art at Cresswell Crags, said most ancient art was too difficult to be simply doodles. "The images are often in areas that are hard to access," he said. "Considerable effort was put into these images. It wasn't just somebody bored on a Sunday."

Tag Lines: Banksy on an ancient and noble art form

The graffiti artist Banksy paid his own tribute to prehistoric cave painters by smuggling a fake rock painting into the British Museum last year.

"The only art to survive was made by those on the margins of society, driven into dank caves to paint," he said yesterday. "If our civilisation was destroyed, future generations would piece together life in the 21st century using only the scrawlings on our subway walls."

The image of a stick figure pushing a shopping trolley and chasing a wildebeest, titled Early Man Goes to Market, hung in the British Museum for three days before it was spotted by curators.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor