The large majority of these drawings are no better executed than those which school children make on walls. The figures of the reindeer, however, are superior, by the remarkable care with which the characteristic lines of the animal are traced, and also, in rare specimens, by the addition of shadows. The drawings of the chamois, the bear, and the ox are likewise often strikingly exact and of real value.
Besides these drawings of mammals, several representations of fishes, exact but very uniform, have been found in caverns in France. As a whole, as Broca remarks, all these relics of primitive art demonstrate that the men of this prehistoric period carefully observed the forms and attitudes of animals, and were capable of representing them exactly and elegantly, attesting a real artistic sense.
No such skill has been observed with reference to the representation of the human figure; and designs in which it appears are extremely rare. Of two of them, one represents a man naked, armed with a club, and surrounded by animals; and the second, a fishing scene, in which a man is lancing a harpoon at some marine animal—a fish, according to Broca; a whale, according to others. In this piece we are most interested in the man. The drawing, as a whole, is puerile and deformed, and the proportions are surprisingly violated. The specimen is not an exception, for the examination of all the drawings of this kind proves that the men of those times, while very skillful in the representation of animals, especially of those which were important to them, were very poor delineators of the human figure.
Another not less characteristic point is the complete absence of drawings of plants. No representation of a tree, or bush, or even of a flower is found, unless we regard as of that character the three little rosettes engraved on a handle of reindeer horn, which some authors think is the figure of a composite flower. Such undoubted exclusiveness on the part of the inhabitants of the caves was evidently not accidental, for chance explains nothing; and we can not admit, with Carl Vogt, that primitive drawing originated in a general tendency of man to the imitation of living Nature. We think the object of these artistic productions was of a quite different character, and that they were originally designed, not for ornament or for pure and simple imitation of Nature, but to secure an instrument for use in the struggle with Nature.
We remark, first, that there is nothing to prove that the men of that epoch were mentally superior to modern savages; and, if we observe these, we shall ascertain that their drawings have usually a very different significance from what they have among civilized peoples, and nothing in common with decoration and æsthetics in general. Numerous facts prove that human thought