kottke.org posts about Marc Azema

Cave paintings were Stone Age animationsSep 18 2012

Archaeologist Marc Azéma thinks that Stone Age artists may have fashioned their cave paintings in such a way as to suggest movement, crude movies that came to life as the flickering light from a fire danced on the walls.

Not only that, Paleolithic artists may have also have invented the thaumatrope thousands of years before the Victorians in the 1800s.

Consisting of a card or disk with different designs on either side, the device demonstrates the persistence of vision: When the card or disk is twirled, the designs appear to blend into one.

Rivère discovered that Paleolithic artists used similar optical toys well in advance of their 19th-century descendants.

The artist examined Magdalenian bone discs -- objects found in the Pyrenees, the north of Spain and the Dordogne, which measure about 1.5 inches in diameter.

Often pierced in their center, the discs have been generally interpreted as buttons or pendants.

"Given that some are decorated on both sides with animals shown in different positions, we realized that another type of use, relating to sequential animation, was possible," the researchers said.

They mentioned one of the most convincing cases, a bone disc found in 1868 in the Dordogne. On one side, the disc features a standing doe or a chamois. On the other side, the animal is lying down.

Azéma and Rivère discovered if a string was threaded through the central hole and then stretched tight to make the disc rotate about its lateral axis, the result was a superimposition of the two pictures on the retina.

Incredible that moviemaking is tens of thousands of years old instead of just a couple hundred.

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