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Cave Art, Autism, and the Evolution of the Human Mind

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 December 2008

Nicholas Humphrey
Graduate Faculty New School for Social Research 65 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10003, USA


The emergence of cave art in Europe about 30,000 years ago is widely believed to be evidence that by this time human beings had developed sophisticated capacities for symbolization and communication. However, comparison of the cave art with the drawings made by a young autistic girl, Nadia, reveals surprising similarities in content and style. Nadia, despite her graphic skills, was mentally defective and had virtually no language. I argue in the light of this comparison that the existence of the cave art cannot be the proof which it is usually assumed to be that the humans of the Upper Palaeolithic had essentially ‘modern’ minds.

Copyright © The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research 1998

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