Nature in Motion

Part of the Horse exhibition.

The shadowy walls of Chauvet Cave, in southern France, are adorned with some of the world's oldest paintings, dating back some 33,000 years. In one underground chamber, horses, woolly rhinoceroses, and wild cattle seem to stampede around a curve in the rock, as if fleeing a predator.

The four horses in one painting look almost alike, but they actually show different behaviors. The second horse from the left has its ears flattened, a sign of aggression; the third horse has its ears perked, as if calm and attentive. A scene like this is unusual in a real herd, where horses take cues from each other and act as a group. Perhaps the artist meant to show the moods of a single horse at different moments in time.

© Jean Clottes

Magic Marks

Ice Age people may have used animal figures in rituals to ensure success in the hunt. In the engraving from Chauvet Cave above, rows of parallel lines may represent spears piercing the belly of a horse.