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Wrestling with Analogy: A Methodological Dilemma in Upper Palaeolithic Art Research

  • J. D. Lewis-Williams (a1)

In 1902 Emile Cartailhac published his Mea Culpa d'un Sceptique. His acceptance of the high antiquity of prehistoric art in western Europe followed Capitan and Breuil's convincing discoveries in Font de Gaume and Les Combarelles and reflected a widespread change of opinion. Despite previous scepticism, researchers were beginning to allow that the parietal as well as the mobile art did indeed date back to the Upper Palaeolithic. But this swing in scientific opinion opened up an even more baffling problem: why did Upper Palaeolithic people make these pictures? In the year following Cartailhac's turn-about Salomon Reinach tried to answer this question by developing an analogical argument based on ethnographic parallels. He could see no other way of approaching the problem: ‘Our only hope of finding out why the troglodytes painted and sculpted lies in asking the same question of present-day primitives with whom the ethnography reveals connections’ (Reinach 1903, 259; my translation, his emphasis).

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Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society
  • ISSN: 0079-497X
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