We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. By continuing to browse this repository, you give consent for essential cookies to be used. You can read more about our Privacy and Cookie Policy.

Durham e-Theses
You are in:

The Origins of Visual Culture? Psychological Foundations of Upper Palaeolithic Figurative Cave Art in Northern Spain

WISHER, ISOBEL,CLAIRE (2022) The Origins of Visual Culture? Psychological Foundations of Upper Palaeolithic Figurative Cave Art in Northern Spain. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

Full text not available from this repository.
Author-imposed embargo until 01 June 2023.


Upper Palaeolithic cave art is enthralling; the depiction of animals by our most ancient ancestors captures the imagination. It is no surprise that this art has been subject to extensive academic attention, with a breadth of perspectives that attempt to understand why people drew animals in caves. Fundamentally, this previous research focused on the aesthetic form of the art and attempted to explain it with singular explanations: from art for art’s sake through to the shamanic. This thesis argues that these “grand narrative” approaches are unsatisfying, and instead shifts focus to explore the meaning within the making of Upper Palaeolithic figurative cave art. A biographical framework that integrated novel digital techniques and insights from visual psychology was developed, to evaluate the making of depictions within three cave art sites situated around Monte Castillo (Cantabria, Spain). This revealed the fundamental role of visual psychological responses, triggered in the immersive and low-light conditions of caves, as influencing this making. When understood through the biographical framework, it was revealed that these responses may have facilitated a dialogue between the artist, the cave wall, light, pigment, and the depicted animals. The material engagement involved in completing the animal depictions, evaluated through high resolution images and digital tracings, further supported this. The application of pigment appeared to directly relate to visual phenomena experienced in caves, tracing natural topographic features of cave walls to capture the intangible visual images that the artist may have perceived. When taken together, this thesis emphasises the role of the visual system as central to the making of Upper Palaeolithic figurative cave art. It reveals intimate moments of human interaction embedded within the art, from visceral perceptual experiences in caves through to the playful manipulation of light to add dynamism to animal forms.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:palaeolithic, cave art, visual psychology, pareidolia
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Archaeology, Department of
Thesis Date:2022
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:01 Jun 2022 16:56

Social bookmarking: del.icio.usConnoteaBibSonomyCiteULikeFacebookTwitter