Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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Art

John Ruskin: A prophet for our troubled times

Philip Hoare writes: In 1964, Kenneth Clark set out the problems of loving John Ruskin. One was his fame itself. Like his sometime pupil Oscar Wilde (who, along with other of his Oxford students he persuaded to dig a road in Hinksey in order that they learn the dignity of labour), Ruskin defined the art and culture of his century. “For almost 50 years,” Clark wrote in his book, Ruskin

How beauty is making biologists rethink evolution

Ferris Jabr writes: A male flame bowerbird is a creature of incandescent beauty. The hue of his plumage transitions seamlessly from molten red to sunshine yellow. But that radiance is not enough to attract a mate. When males of most bowerbird species are ready to begin courting, they set about building the structure for which they are named: an assemblage of twigs shaped into a spire, corridor or hut. They

In cave in Borneo jungle, scientists find oldest figurative painting in the world

The New York Times reports: On the wall of a cave deep in the jungles of Borneo, there is an image of a thick-bodied, spindly-legged animal, drawn in reddish ocher. It may be a crude image. But it also is more than 40,000 years old, scientists reported on Wednesday, making this the oldest figurative art in the world. Until now, the oldest known human-made figures were ivory sculptures found in

South Africa’s Blombos cave is home to the earliest drawing by a human

The drawing found on silcrete stone in Blombos Cave. Craig Foster By Christopher Henshilwood, University of Bergen and Karen Loise van Niekerk, University of Bergen Scientists working in Blombos Cave in South Africa’s southern Cape region have made a discovery that changes our understanding of when our human ancestors started expressing themselves through drawings. They’ve found a 73 000-year-old cross-hatched drawing on a silcrete (stone) flake. It was made with

Warning signs: how early humans first began to paint animals

Painting from El Castillo cave (Cantabria, Spain). Early Upper Palaeolithic or older. Photo Becky Harrison and courtesy Gobierno de Cantabria., Author provided By Derek Hodgson, University of York and Paul Pettitt, Durham University Visual culture – and the associated forms of symbolic communication, are regarded by palaeo-anthropologists as perhaps the defining characteristic of the behaviour of Homo sapiens. One of the great mysteries of archaeology is why figurative art, in

Neanderthals developed art earlier than modern humans

Carl Zimmer writes: The two new studies don’t just indicate that Neanderthals could make cave art and jewelry. They also establish that Neanderthals were making these things long before modern humans — a blow to the idea that they simply copied their cousins. The earliest known cave paintings made by modern humans are only about 40,000 years old, while Neanderthal cave art is at least 24,000 years older. The oldest

New paper links ancient drawings and the origins of language

Peter Dizikes, Massachusetts Institute of Technology: When and where did humans develop language? To find out, look deep inside caves, suggests an MIT professor. More precisely, some specific features of cave art may provide clues about how our symbolic, multifaceted language capabilities evolved, according to a new paper co-authored by MIT linguist Shigeru Miyagawa. A key to this idea is that cave art is often located in acoustic “hot spots,”

Paleolithic parenting and animated GIFs

The creation of the moving image represents a technical advance in the arts comparable with the invention of the steam engine during the industrial revolution. The transition from static to moving imagery was a watershed event in human history, through which people discovered a new way of capturing the visible world — or so it seemed. It turns out, however, that long before the advent of civilization, our Paleolithic forebears