I’m becoming increasingly interested in cognitive archaeology, especially in terms of virtual reality and immersive 3d learning. More on that at a later date; but when I describe this thread to colleagues, I sometimes begin by pointing to the caves of Lascaux, and the wall paintings, as a kind of virtual world.
Some of the most impressive paintings at Lascaux are of bulls, cattle – that is, aurochs (and here). These wild, massive animals (much larger than domestic cattle today) went extinct in Europe in the 17th century. We look at the paintings, and think to ourselves, oh yes, aurochs, how big! look how they seem to move in the firelight.
I think we’re missing the terror of these animals. Let me explain.
We’re living in a farmhouse at the moment. The pasture surrounds us, with a field to the east, and a field to the west, which are connected by a narrow path & bridge, just outside the house. The other night, at about 2 in the morning, a single cow in the west field began to low plaintively, irregularly. The night was quiet and still, and her lowing carried right to the house, waking us up. Just when I thought I’d fall asleep again, she’d low once more… it was maddening.
So, farmboy that I once was, I decided to solve the problem, and out I went in my housecoat, armed with a plastic broom handle. I figured if I could drive her to the east field, she’d shut up.
Problem 2: electric fences are invisible at night.
Problem 3: so are black angus cattle.
Problem 4: so is an adult human male wearing a blue housecoat, for all intents and purposes.
I couldn’t find her at all. So if I can’t find the one I want, want the ones I’ve got: it seemed like a good idea at the time, but I figured maybe I could drive the rest of the herd (surely I could find the herd?) to her, thus shutting her up. My foray into the east pasture startled the rest of the herd in the east field, who all rose up and began to run. The only sound they made came from the thunder of their hooves as they began to circle the field. And I couldn’t see them, not a one; just vague, rushing shapes.
Vague rushing shapes who each weighed approximately 500 – 700 kg.
Vague rushing shapes with horns.
Vague rushing shapes who had but one outlet.
Where I was standing.
So I can now appreciate the terror, the majesty, however dimly, of what that cave painter was trying to convey.
(by the way, once the cattle had run to the west field – and I had vaulted the electric fence – all was quiet again. Except for the one cow left in the east field, who began to low plaintively…)