The Grotte d’Oxocelhaya is located in the same hillside as the Grotte d’Isturitz in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department of France. It was last occupied around 10,000 years ago.
When I first came across the above image, I thought that the perfectly depicted halter would support the evidence I had found for domestication of the horse at Grotte Le Cuzoul des Brasconies. Then I spotted the word ér 儿, meaning legs. The image is very detailed. On the left hand side, it explains how to diagnose lameness in a horse. The centre of the image shows a back that is too long. The right hand side depicts two other aspects of conformation namely vision and respiration. Each of these areas is explained in more detail below. As a whole, the picture seems to deal with ‘everything’ that you might need to know when acquiring a horse.
If we look at the horse’s foreleg first, we see that the toe is pointing. A horse standing on level ground will normally have her foot flat. The pointing indicates discomfort. We therefore need to diagnose (bǔ卜) issues to do with gait (gǔn丨, vertical movement).
I haven’t found the symbol 厂 associated with elbow in modern Chinese, but it is clearly pictographic. The yī 一, meaning above is still used in modern Chinese composite characters. ‘Above the elbow’ refers to what looks like a sore or a swelling, which could be a cause of lameness in the horse. The sore is accompanied by a ㄨ symbol, the pictographic meaning of which hasn’t changed in the last 10,000 years.
Lastly, in relation to the foreleg, we see the symbol ér 儿, meaning legs or base, with the symbol rù 入, meaning to enter, but the orientation of the 入 symbol is different, and therefore it means to extract. The horse might have an object embedded in its hoof, or an infection that needs to be removed.
In this image (right), we see two horses’ heads, one with a well fitting halter, and the other with a badly fitting halter marked with the ㄨ symbol. A badly fitting halter will cause the horse to hold its head up. This will put undue strain on the animals back, and can cause lameness.
Next (below), we see that the horse’s back is too long, because the back measured from peak of withers to peak of croup, exceeds 1/3 of the horse’s total body length. I have created three blocks; each has a width equal to 1/3 of the body length. The distance between the withers and the croup should ideally be no longer than the width of one block. Any longer, and the back will have a tendency to sway, which can result in lameness.
Finally, it may be that this other horse’s head, with the prominent eye and nostril, was used to discuss the aspects of vision and respiration that affect the horse’s ability to perform a given task.
Did you notice that the picture is comprised of bits of horses? The artist has only drawn those aspects of the animals that are necessary to explain his message.
Image Credits: All images are versions of le cheval au licol: Larribau, Jean Daniel: La Grotte d'Oxocelhaya - Synthèse des découvertes – Art pariétal préhistorique du Pays Basque (Isturitz-Oxocelhaya-Erberua), June 2011: email@example.com