Wild adult animals don’t have a lot of time for play, but domesticated animals keep playing far past their infancy. Humans developed larger brains as they relied on socializing to survive cooperatively, and developed the ability to conceive of a ‘future’ to stay prepared for. I think cooperation and the related surge in brain size gave us free time and imagination, that maybe part of the development of art was the domestication of the wild human – we could play far past infancy. Religion naturally developed along with our ability to imagine connections and spontaneously create symbols.
I also wonder if prehistoric people were like us in that it’s not everyone who can create great art. Were the artists of the tribe seen as special like shamans? Were they fed and housed by their patron tribe, with understanding that what they did was as important as going out to hunt?
Seeing the Venus of Willendorf reminded me of an idea I’d run across years ago, by Professor Leroy McDermott that the fertility carvings were actually self portraits by women. There’s a few photosets out there that show how forshortening works when a woman is looking down at her own body. Here’s a link to one article about it:
The article also points out some reasons why this idea may be wrong – but when asked to answer why these sculptures were made, I thought of modern selfies. The Venus carvings make me think of how men are very visually stimulated, and tend to ask girls to ‘send them nudes.’ If these sculptures were self portraits, I imagine they’d be gifts to hot boys.
The images on the cave walls were all of the most important food-source to the artists during the ice age. Except for earlier art in Africa, plants wouldn’t be depicted until after the adoption of agriculture. Here’s a link to the African plant art:
People made permanent art of fluctuating food sources. I imagine a prehistoric person would get a lot of comfort from visiting the cave during a ritual, if he could see a reminder that the seasonal animals were coming back. It makes sense that early religion would involve visiting a pair of perpetually mating bison in a womb-like cave, to know that the animals would breed to create more food for you and the baby you’re trying to conceive. Consuming the blood and body of Christ makes sense in this way, if Jesus is the cyclical resurrection god.
God forming Adam from clay came to mind when reading about the sculptor that visited the cave of the two bison.