The most interesting site to me this semester, after much deliberation, is the Chauvet Cave in France. I know, it does not feature any large cool looking architecture, or gold or precious jewels, or any other kind of material culture.But tt features the oldest known cave paintings in the world and was visited repeatedly over a 10,000 year period. Very few places have cultural significance over that long of a time period. Like VERY FEW.
What I think is cool about Chauvet is that it plays a pivotal role in our modern understanding of the evolution of our species. It marks a turning point in the development of human intelligence that would eventually lead you and me to understanding the evolution of our species! We are the only intelligent species we know of. That is crazy to think about for me, and is a huge reason I chose the anthropology as my major. This time period is described by some anthropologists/archaeologists as the “cultural explosion.” It is when we became us, and it is unknown why or how it happened.
Perhaps we really are the evolutionary pinnacle of the life on this planet, or perhaps we were given our intelligence through some divine intervention. I have no idea and will not claim to, but I think about this all the time, and the explanation I usually come up with falls somewhere in between. I think the ability to show compassion for others in your immediate community plays a large role in why we evolved intelligence, based on the fact that elephants, whales, and monkeys are some of the few other species on the planet that also exhibit caring for other group members, and are our next closest relatives on the intelligence scale. On the other hand, sharks and alligators are pretty sour, and they have been around since before the first mammals ever existed, but they both could survive at sea when land was not habitable.
The species I listed that show compassion, also usually are the most intelligent, most communal based species in their respective environments. Their strength in numbers or, size, and communication abilities put them at a huge advantage to their predators, unless of course the predator is human. The ability of these creatures to understand the potential threats in their environment and warn others when danger is near shows higher level of concern than a vast majority of species.
The Chauvet cave is so significant in my eyes, because it takes our mental evolution one step further, where we can communicate with visual symbols. It shows the transition of our minds to be able to interpret something that someone else in our group has created and interpret it the way the wanted us to. We are not using our senses to communicate, but our mutual concept of an artistic representation. This psychological transition is what I hope to understand after a long prosperous career as an anthropologist. Once we understand what made us smart, whether it was a creator or evolution or our ancestors traveling from another planet, perhaps the people of the world will finally realize we are all in this together, and a little compassion can go a long way.