Playing with fire

In June of this year, an amazing discovery was made in the South of France.  It didn’t involve the location of a reasonably priced bottle of Rosé at the Carlton Terrace.  Or the revelation that it’s technically possible to leave the Gutter Bar before Sunrise.  But it did involve some suitably Neanderthal behaviour, from some fiery creative types.

To widespread astonishment, a team of archaeologists announced that some cave paintings near the village of Lascaux had probably been designed to work as moving pictures.  That’s right: our supposedly primitive ancestors had invented animation.  A full 30,000 years before the earliest Victorian ‘cinematographers’.

Experts had long been mystified by depictions of 8-legged, 3-headed animals in the Lascaux caves.  They’d also been puzzled by the presence of strange bone discs in the complex. The breakthrough came when the scientists realised that the flickering flames of a campfire could animate the paintings – and that the discs could be used to exaggerate the strobe effect.

The incredible discovery is brought to life in this video.  It’s worth watching for the sheer ‘Wow’ factor alone.  And for confirmation that ‘animals doing funny things’ has always been a popular meme. cave painting

But what really struck me was the spirit of experimentation that must have gone into the original discovery, all those years ago.  In a world where we often seem paralysed by the fear of trying something new, it’s sobering to realise how innovative our ancestors were.

They didn’t get hung up about the relative merits of old and new technology.  They didn’t worry about how they might weave all the strands of story-telling together (not least because weaving hadn’t been invented yet).  They just played around with conventions and tried new ways of expressing themselves, in as many ways as possible.

This got me thinking.  All too often, we trample on this primitive desire to experiment.  We over-analyse things.  We compartmentalise.  We get fixated on the risks and not the opportunities.

Maybe we should all get back to playing with fire?

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