How does one write music for the dawn of time? This was the task faced by Ernst Reijseger, Dutch cellist and composer. Reijseger composed the music for the movie Cave of Forgotten Dreams, directed by Werner Herzog.
The movie and the music are captivating. The documentary is about the Chauvet Cave in France. Discovered in 1994, it holds paintings that are 32,000 years old. 32,000. They are among the oldest known cave paintings. And they are beautiful. In some parts of the cave, some paintings overlap one another. Carbon dating found that the paintings were made 5000 years apart. 5000. Here is the French Ministry of Culture’s website on the cave in French. Here is the Bradshaw Foundation’s website on the cave art in English.
It is difficult for the modern brain to grasp this expanse of time. It is going into King Tut’s tomb and using it for the exact same purpose, as if no time had passed at all. And this is the smaller number to deal with.
The artwork is utterly human. And yet the purpose is incomprehensible. Not so the handprints, which serve as a signature as distinct as John Hancock’s.
There is a “Venus” painting at the site that is similar to artifacts found at sites farther to the east in Germany. And at these sites, in addition to the Venus figurines, whistles and bone flutes were found. And they are around 42,000 years old.
Thanks to my friend and commenter Paul B. for introducing me to this movie.
Here is the trailer to Cave of Forgotten Dreams. It is available for sale, for streaming, and possibly also at your local library (759.0112C). The DVD contains a bonus video on the recording of Reijseger’s film score and conversations with the composer on his music and his custom-made 5-string cello (so he could play even lower notes).
Postscript: I found out that even older paintings have been found on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. They are 42,000 years old. Read about the Sulawesi artwork here.