Current Students

Isobel Wisher

Palaeolithic cave art is the only direct evidence pertinent to understanding the origins of art. Since its discovery in the late 19th Century, it has captivated imaginations. It is dominated by breath-taking depictions of prey animals (e.g. horse, bison, reindeer) critical to the survival of Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer groups. The art dates to >40,000 – 15,000 years ago, and therefore provides a window into the minds of our ancestors. However, despite decades of research, the making and meaning of the art is still elusive. Uncritical “umbrella theories” only contribute generalised and anachronistic interpretations, untested against the archaeological record. Therefore, there is an overwhelming need for a testable model developed within the caves themselves. My research aims to determine the visual cognitive mechanisms involved in Palaeolithic cave art and develop a model for the visual system’s role in art origins. An interdisciplinary collaboration between archaeology and psychology allows for direct primary research conducted on cave art in northern Spain to be combined with established psychological research. This novel approach will enable the testing of hypotheses regarding the origins of cave art and its function in Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer groups, answering the crucial question: was cave art psychologically inevitable?

Supervisory Team: Prof. Paul Pettitt, Archaeology (Durham), Dr Bob Kentridge, Psychology (Durham).

Start Date: October 2018