Man before man

Man before man

I was reading Ben Cosgrove’s reminiscence of the ~20,000 year old Lascaux cave paintings recently:

September 12, 1940. A warm afternoon in Dordogne, in southwestern France. Four boys and their dog, Robot, walk along a ridge covered with pine, oak and blackberry brambles. When Robot begins digging near a hole beside a downed tree, the boys tell each other that this might be the entrance to a legendary tunnel running beneath the Vézère River, leading to a lost treasure in the woods of Montignac. The youngsters begin to dig, widening the hole, removing rocks—until they’ve made an opening large enough for each to slip through, one by one. They slide down into the earth—and emerge into a dark chamber beneath the ground.

They have discovered not merely another place, but another time.

In the cool dark beneath the sunlit world above, the boys found themselves in “a Versailles of prehistory”—a vast series of caves, today collectively known as Lascaux, covered with wall paintings that, by some estimates, are close to 20,000 years old. In 1947, LIFE magazine’s Ralph Morse went to Lascaux, becoming the first professional photographer to document the breathtaking scenes. Now in his late-90s, Morse shared his memories of that time and place with, recalling what it was like to encounter the strikingly lifelike, gorgeous handiwork of a long-vanished people: the Cro-Magnon. …

“For permanence, the finest pigments of civilized Europe have never rivaled these crude materials.”

Lascaux, and places like it that survive as tangible reminders of the truly epochal prehistorical history of mankind, can be daunting to think about. I sometimes think about the man or woman of 10,000 or 20,000 or 40,000 or 100,000 or more years ago. What the world (this same world) was like for them. What they understood their lives to be.

It’s in the light of their lives that I think of evolution. And I think of evolution as naturally squaring with Lascaux and and how places like it square with a God-shaped reality.

Lascaux and places like it speak to the possibility of a sort of folkloric memory of what was lost in the loss of relationship with God in a more grace-filled, Edenic state of being. This folkloric memory might have survived the loss of that grace-filled time and might have resulted in our very literal, animalistic devolution that has been changing (in our experience) over millions of years worth of time. It’s not at all improbable to me that the natural, literally animalistic consequence of our separation from God would nonetheless leave us with echoes of the natural law—of a faint memory of beauty and goodness and truth.

Doesn’t this idea, of man post-Eden becoming quite genuinely less, actually add more drama and verve to genesis than the Protestant’s literary literalism?

In this we can see how folkloric memory, literally the lore or stories of a people, would play a vital role in pre-recorded history in capturing the essential truth of a thing even if shorn of the specifics. That folkloric memory could eventually produce Genesis in a legitimate and divinely inspired way, with the only detail that what we remembered at the time as something like “days” in fact meant eons, literal ages of our animalistic period when beauty and life and a lingering consciousness in the hearts of man persisted, until the time had come for Christ to call us home.

This possibility makes much more sense to me than the idea that conscious flesh has developed of its own accord on a rock (or rocks) suspended within an impassable void which is itself a mystery whose essential nature is unknowable.