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Cave paintings are early man's 'animation'

London:Sept 25, 2012 PTI 21:21 IST
In a primitive attempt at animation, prehistoric artists used cartoon-like techniques to give the impression that their images were moving across cave walls, French researchers claim.

They noted that prehistoric man foreshadowed the invention of cinema by creating art with a rudimentary understanding of the principle of persistence of vision.

A new study of cave art across France – in which animals appear to have multiple limbs, heads and tails – has found that the paintings represent a primitive attempt at animation, the Daily Mail reported. When the images are viewed under the unsteady light of flickering flames they appear to move as the animals they represent do in real life.
The researchers also believe that prehistoric relics previously thought to have been used as buttons were actually designed as thaumatropes - double sided pictures that can be spun to blur the images into an animation.

The startling findings are reported by archaeologist Marc Azema of the University of Toulouse-Le Mirail and artist Florent Rivvre in ‘Antiquity’.

Azema, who researched Stone Age animation techniques for 20 years, has identified 53 paintings in 12 French caves which superimpose two or more images to apparently represent movement.

They show animals trotting, galloping, tossing their heads or shaking their tails.
“Lascaux (a complex of caves in south-west France] is the cave with the greatest number of cases of split-action movement by superimposition of successive images,” Azema was quoted by Discovery as saying.

“Some 20 animals, principally horses, have the head, legs or tail multiplied. When these paintings are viewed by flickering torchlight the animated effect achieves its full impact,” Azema added.

Azema and Rivere claim their theory is backed up by the discovery that ancient engraved discs were used as thaumatropes, formerly claimed to have been invented in 1825 by astronomer John Hershel.

Rivere believes that Palaeolithic artists created similar optical toys well before their apparent invention in the 19th century.

In the most convincing case, a bone disc found in 1868 in the Dordogne, one side features a standing doe, while on the reverse the animal is lying down. The animal appears to get up and down repeatedly.

“Palaeolithic thaumatropes can be claimed as the earliest of the attempts to represent movement that culminated in the invention of the cinematic camera,” they said.

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