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Metamorphosis 1

In the course of human evolution, the transformation from Bhimbetka to Ajanta is a mere flash in the pan. If it took 4.5 billion years to get to the first cave paintings, it only took another 2000 years to blossom into the art of the Ajanta Cave paintings.

But note the presumptuousness here- I almost said it aloud- that Ajanta is more “evolved”.

Are we sure? What was the purpose of Bhimbetka? Instruction? Maybe. Celebration? Possibly.

We are not sure if the cave paintings were meant to guide young students in the art of hunting. If such was the purpose, then the first instruction manuals far predate accepted ideas regarding manuals. We normally accept that Geoffrey Chaucer wrote the first “manual” (yes the RTFM kind). It was a treatise on operating the Astrolable, written for his son.

Interesting. Some would consider the astrolable to be the first computer the world ever had.

Check this link:

So to get back to our early cave painting. Suppose they were instructions. Then this could be our first Audio-visual education system. Imagine the audio from the aged presenter, relating the process. And then, add to that his story of how he did it when he was young. And you’ve got storytelling, celebration, oral tradition, transfer of knowledge and graphic design all thrown into one neat little multimedia package.

In the degrees of abstraction, we accept that design, or plan, (as in floor plans) is the most practical form of art, moving through architecture, sculpture, painting, dance and music into more and more abstract forms. We also naturally tend to believe that the more abstract forms must have evolved later, the more practical forms having arrived earlier.

But if storytelling, visual communication, instruction and planning all came in one package, then those boundaries or degrees of abstraction that we ascribe to the arts may have been all fuzzy and meaningless in the context of history, time-lines and evolution.

In the early stone age, hominids would rely upon found pieces of stone or other objects to fulfill their objective. These were the first “tools”- no different from the kind of utilization you would find today amongst chimpanzees. In due course our ancestors learnt to shape flint into sharp objects for the purposes of scraping, cutting, digging. Thus the earliest stone age tools were so created. Even so, the stone tools remained stone pieces.

The transformation began when the first stone-age axe was built. For the first time, here was an example of a design. A plan that is now transformed into a constructed product. Stone + wooden handle. It is the implementation of an internal thought. It is no longer a stone, no longer a stick. It is far greater than the sum of the parts- it is the execution of a “plan”, a thought.

In the scale of “abstractness” that we use today, this “plan” and its realization, is pretty low- in the sense that it is a design, and a mere tool. But as a milestone in the evolution of human intelligence, it is a giant leap from “adaptation” to “creation”- a metamorphosis into abstraction.


About Rajib Aditya

Rajib Aditya is learning. This is an attempt to put some of that learning into words. Nothing here is original. Knowledge exists, and should be free. Free both as in "free beer" and as in "free speech". Spread it without restraint.

4 responses »

  1. Liked it. Would really want to see where this leads to. From human evolution to the evolution of intelligence – from that perspective, it’s really a wonder to know that it took so much to make us happen. Good food for thought. Keep them coming.

  2. 1. I think you should make the links clickable. 2. A lot of what technology does is adapt human scale activities and make them scalable. So your point of the earliest multimedia is perfect ( and as such should not make us feel to great about ourselves ). Its like your tablet that allows you to draw and input it into computers – and some simply draw on a sheet of paper and clicks a picture and shares. The critical point is – was the cave painting a mere depiction and recording of a large part of life ( to mean that a lot of the day went behind hunting ) or was it instruction or both? So like Anirban, I would also like to see where this is headed!

    • 1. The link is clickable now. It was a miss. 2. All the day would have gone behind hunting for the “hunter-gatherer”. The evenings would thus likely be more suitable for entertainment, instruction, celebration. Just my deduction.
      3. I don’t think I know where this is headed, because everyday they are discovering more about our past. But the theme, if there is one, for this blog, is essentially the evolution (and future evolution) of human intelligence, with some special affinity towards the arts.
      Thanks for commenting.

  3. Very interesting. Here in northern Minnesota in the wilderness areas separating the US and Canada there are many pictographs along the rock faces. They served as “maps” for the Ojibwa Indians and other travelers; usually depicting hunting grounds, fish, etc.
    One of several pictographs was found in a very remote area of Quetico Provincial Park (Montgomery Lake) that is telling the visitor that either a Chief lived there; it a picture of a male stick figure with unusual dimensions. Other pictographs include abundant meat, fish, etc. And the camp site is incredible; with a very nice “kitchen” and several platforms where you can imagine people living.
    I have always been fascinated about map drawings, pictographs, etc. Thanks for your post; very educational.


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