Understanding Cave Script: Five


I have found examples of numbers expressed as rod numerals, and examples of pictographs of finger gestures. However, it is also important to note that quantities in Cave Script are often implicit rather than explicit. In other words not everything with a numerical value carries a label. If a tool was made for someone's own use or for use by someone known to the maker, it did not need to carry a label, saying for example: this is an angle of five degrees.


Marc Azéma has demonstrated how animation was sometimes incorporated into the drawings on cave walls1.

Where there is only one image, and therefore no animation, I think that some of the images can be better understood, if the observer mimics the action portrayed, such as with the bird man in the Well at Lascaux.

Many of the glyphs depict movement. They too can be better understood if you can imagine the action portrayed. At this point, I would argue that it is important to remember that the purpose of Cave Script is communication. As such, it is not meant to be a secret code to which only a minority have access. It is meant to be readily understood by all.

Let’s consider a few examples of horizontal movement. Each of the diagrams (below) has a long line depicting horizontal movement associated with shorter lines that can be taken to be legs or feet. The placing of the feet depicts the different kinds of movement.

Image: Lynn Fawcett
Image: Lynn Fawcett

An example of the sign meaning to walk is found in the Grotte de Marsoulas2. It is located beneath a bison comprised of dots. The dots are archaic versions of the character dīng , meaning population. As such, they depict a herd of bison. The glyph tells us at what pace the herd is moving.

An example of the sign meaning to run can be seen on a spatula from the Grotte d’Isturitz3. In this instance, it does not refer to the physical act of running, but rather to the mixing process. Perhaps a good translation would be mix well, or blend thoroughly.

An example of the sign meaning to leap or to pounce can be seen on a pendant in the shape of a big cat from the Grotte d’Isturitz4.

Please note that each symbol must be deciphered individually. The examples given could all be described as barbed lines, but each has a distinct meaning. The interpretations are mine.


Image Credit: Drawings: Lynn Fawcett, September 2013: depiction of some symbols incorporating horizontal movement


1.  Sandrine Ceurstemont, 2013: Stone-Age cinema: Cave art conceals first animations: New Scientist TV: http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/nstv/2013/01/stone-age-cinema-cave-art-conceals-first-animations.html: Accessed: 10 September 2013

2.  Example of the symbol meaning to walk: Carole Fritz et Gilles Tosello, 2010: Restauration virtuelle de l’art pariétal paléolithique: le cas de la grotte de Marsoulas: In Situ, revue des patrimonies: http://www4.culture.fr/patrimoines/ patrimoine_monumental_et_archeologique/insitu/image.xsp?numero=&id_article=fritzrestau-894&no_image=8: Accessed 14 September 2013

3.  Example of the symbol meaning to run: Photograph of a spatula: Main types of objects of mobile art on rib bones in Middle Magdalenian from Isturitz: Claire Lucas, 2011: Gravures sur côtes: Engraving on rib bones : graphic combinations in Middle Magdalenian from Isturitz (Pyrénées-Atlantiques): Figure 3: Paleo, Revue d’Archéologie Préhistorique, numéro 22, p. 189-206: http://paleo.revues.org/docannexe/image/2128/img-3.jpg: Accessed: 14 September 2013

4.  Example of the symbol meaning to leap: Photograph of a carving in the shape of a big cat: http://www.i-s-c-a.com/show-cave/38-grottes-d-isturitz-et-oxocelhaya: Accessed: 14 September 2013