Sunday, March 28, 2010


On February 24, 2010, I posted a column titled “Rock Art and Sound Effects”. In that posting I discussed the possibility that sound effects may have enhanced the experience of viewers of painted panels in European caves. Also, that many rock art panels are located in places that display unusual echo effects. Another possible manifestation of sound at rock art sites would be music. This could be music played in the presence of rock art, and could also be music as a theme of the imagery in the rock art.

Trois freres sanctuary, sketched by
Abbe Breuel,Musee de l'Homme.

One example of music as a theme of rock art is found in the sanctuary at Le Trois Freres, sketched by the Abbe Breuel. Often considered a shaman figure, this therianthropic character seems to be dancing on human legs but possesses a bison head, horns and forelimbs. Additionally, this enigmatic figure is obviously carrying a bow and appears to be pursuing a group of bison. This has led to previous classifications of this scene as a portrayal of hunting magic.

Les Trois Freres, Abbe Breuil, 1912, p.21

In Musical Instruments, Craftsmanship and Tradition from Prehistory to the Present, Lucy Rault, suggested that this figure was, in fact, playing music on a musical bow. She described the technique of playing the instrument as “the player places the string between his lips and strikes it with a thin stick. Modifying the volume by altering the position of his lips, and of the tongue within the mouth cavity the musician creates different harmonics to produce a tune” (2000: 151). Rault included a photo of a Dan musician from the Ivory Coast and pointed out the position of the bow relative to the mouth as representative of the figure playing the bow as an instrument.

Musical bow, Dan, Ivory Coast, p.151.

In another connection between music and cave painting bone flutes have been excavated from deposits within caves that also possess cave paintings. It is no great stretch to imagine those flutes being played in a context of ceremonials in front of painted panels within the cave, although we cannot by any means prove that both the flute playing and the painted panels were involved in the same performance.

Paleolithic bone flutes,Isturitz, p.33.

Since we find the concept of music played in the context of rock art panels so interesting, we can probably assume that the prehistoric inhabitants of those regions would like the idea as well, and, since they had all the ingredients available – who knows?

Rault, Lucy
2000 Musical Instruments, Craftsmanship and Tradition from Prehistory to the Present, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York.

1 comment:

  1. Yehudi Menuhin interpreted the musical connection of the bow in his 1996 volume, "the Violin"