|Figure carved from mammoth ivory, 26k years old, Dolni Vestonici, Czech (BM)|
The premise is that complex language and all forms of art require a modern brain, like our own, with a well-developed region at the front to power minds capable of externalising imaginative and abstract thoughts.
Some might argue that mind and brain are rather different, but perhaps I'm just being picky. The show sounds unmissable, bringing together as it does Ice Age artworks from umpteen European museums and displaying them alongside work by Matisse, Mondrian and Henry Moore. I've no doubt that treating cave paintings and carved objects of the distant past as pieces of art, rather than as archaeological finds, will help to break down barriers. My feeling, in the face of minimal evidence, is that we probably share more in common with our distant ancestors than we imagine. We've been conditioned by ideas of progress to assume that people in the past were less clever and more barbaric than we are; the sight of a deer beautifully drawn on the wall of a cave (an experience to be recreated within the exhibition) makes us think again, as do the kind of carvings that will be on show.
|Replica of Lespugue figurine, 25k years old, France|
You probably won't have to queue as long to get into the Quadriga Gallery, an exhibition space run by English Heritage and located, bizarrely, inside the Wellington Arch near Hyde Park Corner, but I think 'The General, the Scientist and the Banker: the Birth of Archaeology and the Battle for the Past' sounds fascinating (if a little long-winded):
In 1859 two extraordinary events changed the way people considered human existence: a flint hand axe was found in a gravel quarry level with bones of extinct animals, and Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species. Darwin’s big idea and the discovery of the axe broke the Biblical version of history. Opening with the book and the rarely seen axe, this exhibition tells the story of what happened next - as archaeological pioneers battled to save Britain’s great prehistoric sites from destruction.
|Paul Nash, Silbury Hill, c1935 (Tate)|
Paul Nash and Eric Ravilious were both fascinated by ancient monuments, as they were by downland landscapes more generally. I've written about this here and also, more recently, for British Archaeology magazine. For this very issue (No 129), in fact. I have to say - and this is no thanks to me - it looks great, particularly the photos of Rav's impossible-to-photograph White Horse dummy. Wonderful.
Incidentally, the Wiltshire Heritage Museum is fund-raising to cover its purchase of the White Horse dummy at auction last year. Find out more here.