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The Cave Painters: Probing the Mysteries of the World's First Artists    by Gregory Curtis order for
Cave Painters
by Gregory Curtis
Order:  USA  Can
Anchor, 2007 (2006)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* *   Reviewed by Alex Telander

It was a special day when Gregory Curtis was vacationing in France with his family and entered some famous caves. When he gazed upon their unique cave paintings for the first time, this book was born. The Cave Painters is a two-part story: one small part tells of the rise of Cro-Magnon humans and their painting abilities; the rest is the history of those who first discovered the paintings and how they proved their finds to the world.

Curtis starts right at the beginning with the first hominids to make their way across Africa. He then takes the reader on a journey evolving through different generations of the Homo genus up to Cro-Magnon, better known as Homo sapiens. Curtis also discusses whether the Neanderthals were wiped out by the arrival of Cro-Magnons, leaning more towards the negative, since the population numbers being discussed are in little more than the thousands. These two different groups of people would rarely have had any contact with each other at all. Nevertheless, it is clear that Curtis has gone all out with his research, putting forth multiple ideas and not just the one he supports.

While the reader is left wanting much more in this area, this is where Curtis leaves it, now taking up the history of those special people who discovered the cave paintings of Western Europe. In some ways this is just as moving and tumultuous a story as that of Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals. These people were for the most part French, since the largest number of caves with paintings are located in France. Curtis tells their stories starting in the nineteenth century. Some were shunned and mocked, and even had their careers ruined, when they told the world of cave paintings that were over ten thousand years old. Curtis takes the research right up to the present day with what is currently being done with the cave paintings; how probably the most famous caves at Lascaux have been re-created in a separate building due to the deterioration of the paintings by exposure to a large number of visitors.

The Cave Painters: Probing the Mysteries of the World's First Artists is an incredible story. In it, the reader first learns a detailed evolutionary history of humanity, and then a detailed biographical history of the famous discoveries of specific cave paintings throughout Europe. Recently released in paperback, the book features numerous illustrations of the cave paintings to aid Curtis's discussion, as well as a selection of colored plates. It is a short book that will educate the reader greatly.

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