Visionary Archaeoastronomer Shatters Ceiling of Lascaux Scholarship

Image Courtesy of Flickr member JackVersloot

Though we are not exactly into fan websites, this one actually had us contemplating creating one for Dr. Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez for [ahem] shattering the cave ceiling of prehistorical scholarship with her skills of keen observation, logic, interdisciplinary thinking, and tenacious data-gathering.

National Geographic’s Naked Science series recently featured the independent archaeologist, ethnoastronomer, and psychologist, Dr. Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez and her remarkable research which, to understate it, recontextualizes paleolithic art.

Over a period of 7 years, Jègues-Wolkiewiez visited 130 cave sites featuring paleolithic drawings, recording their solar alignments throughout seasons, and revealing that 122 of the 130 sites had optimal orientations to the solstitial horizons. Her example case “considered a salmon with a curved lower jaw, a characteristic of post-spawned fish. During the winter, the sunlight would fall specifically on this fish, concurrent with the season in which spawning occurs” (from the National Geographic website). Further, Jègues-Wolkiewiez observed that the Lascaux paintings themselves, traditionally thought to be shamanistic representations of hunted animals, actually align with celestial positions essentially revealing a highly sophisticated map of the constellations. Not bad for cave men (or women)…

On her website, Jègues-Wolkiewiez says of her research (translated from French to English):

My researches tend to prove that as well as the Paleolithic works date from 35000 years ago (the Blanchard shelter bone in Sergeac en Dordogne), the works founded in the Vallée des Merveilles show precise and meticulous observations of the solar, lunar and stellar cycles. They reveal unsuspected astronomical knowledge in periods as ancient as the Aurignacienne era. All this knowledge was indispensable for the survival of Occidental Europe’s first habitants. It allowed them, for example, to anticipate season changes with the deriving modifications in their vital environment as animal migration.

However, beyond that, these parietal works, furniture, caves, could reveal the link between the sequence of seasonal celestial cycles and the foundational myths of the Indo-European civilizations, myths that we will find later in ancient Egypt or in Mesopotamia, Greece, Etruria and more.

Thank you, Dr. Jègues-Wolkiewiez, you made our year!

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