E.H. Gombrich on Cave Painting

“Why do you think these prehistoric people painted animals on the walls of caves? Just for decoration? That doesn’t seem likely, because the caves were so dark. Of course we can’t be sure, but we think they may have been trying to make magic, that they believed that painting pictures of animals on the walls would make those animals appear. Rather like when we say ‘Talk of the devil’ (‘look who’s here’) when someone we’ve been talking about turns up unexpectedly. After all, these animals were their prey, and without them they would starve. So, they may have been trying to invent a magic spell. It would ne nice to think that such things work. But they never have yet.”

Excerpted from: Gombrich, E.H. Trans. Caroline Mustill. A Little History of the World. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.

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