In adjoining chambers there are hundreds of finger tracings in clay of a kind known among archeologists simply as meanders, or “macaronis.” These are interspersed with an occasional abstract figure of a human female or an image of a mammoth. Still another section of the cave contains nothing but groups of red dots.
The impression of Pech-Merle is one of great variety—females, animals, meanders, dots, hand prints, and abstract signs—and the questions are equally varied. How, for example, do you interpret a circle in the chest of a horse? How do you begin to under¬stand sets of dots, or interlaced meanders? A female image is “feminine,” but what does an animal image represent—a meal?
Instead of searching immediately for the meaning of these images, I tried to find out how they were made and used. I began by using invisible light from lamps that radiate infrared or ultraviolet rays. One can take photographs by means of this invisible radia¬tion, using special films and filters. I devised the techniques with Cro-Magnon man’s painting materials in mind. Ice Age artists used two kinds of mineral paints: the ochers, or ferrous oxide clays, ranging from pure red through yellow and brown to violet; and manganese oxide for black. These pigments were often available in the caves themselves.
Infrared film sees through red ochers as though they were glass. Paintings in other pigments under them become visible. Im¬purities in the ochers also can be detected, since those are not transparent and therefore show up in the photographs. Various mixes of paint become clearly differentiated.
When I began a breakdown of the spotted horses, I found that the sets of red dots mixed in with the black dots had been made by different types of ochers. Each set apparently had been added to the horse at a different time. Without trying to interpret this strange composition, I could nonetheless suggest a sequence to the buildup. A fish and a circle were first painted on a wall, the contours of which suggested a horse. Then the outline of a horse was drawn to fit the shape of the wall. Then, set by set, black and red dots were added inside the horse, and when it was filled, black dots were put above and below.
Next a second horse outline was added, and this, too, was slowly filled up with sets of red and black dots. When both horses were filled, hand prints rather than dots were placed around them, marking a final use of the wall. Whatever meaning the fish, circle, and horses had, the dots and hand prints apparently were related to that meaning.
Like the early Vogelherd horse that was handled, used, and then killed, this wall with its horses had had use and reuse. Over how long a period one could not tell. But clearly these were not mere pictures of horses meant to be killed and eaten.