Drawings of Representational Images by Upper Paleolithic Humans and their Absence in Neanderthals Reflect Historical Differences in Hunting Wary Game


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December 2017


One characteristic of the transition from the Middle Paleolithic to the Upper Paleolithic in Europe was the emergence of representational charcoal drawings and engravings by Aurignacian and Gravettian artists. European Neanderthals never engaged in representational drawing during the Middle and Early Upper Paleolithic, a property that might reflect less developed visuomotor coordination. This article postulates a causal relationship between an evolved ability of anatomically modern humans to throw spears accurately while hunting and their ability to draw representational images from working memory. Unlike Neanderthals, archaic and anatomically modern humans in sub-Saharan Africa adopted longer-range hunting practices using hand-cast spears as a compensation for the emergence of increasingly wary game. For Neanderthals, paleoclimatic fluctuations likely precluded consistent hunting of cold-adapted game, a property making game more approachable for close-range hunting with thrusting spears. As evidence of less historical wariness of humans, many of the species hunted by Neanderthals were eventually domesticated. Due to strong sources of natural selection on archaic and anatomically modern humans for effective hunting, the parietal cortex that integrates visual imagery and motor coordination expanded progressively, yielding the globular shape of the human cranium that is not evident in Neanderthals. To characterize how the cognitive properties employed for throwing spears and drawing line work are similar, the Upper Paleolithic drawings of animals in Chauvet cave, France, are discussed in the speculative context of how these artists engaged simultaneously in overt attention to guide their hand movements and covert attention to their mental images during the drawing process.


Anatomically Modern Humans, Chauvet Cave Art, Representational Drawing, Neanderthals, Overt And Covert Attention, Predator–Prey Arms Race, Spear Throwing And Thrusting

Document Type



Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture, Vol. 1, no. 2 (2017-12-26).