Pavlov and the morning routine
MSNBC: Another Year in Pictures assemblage

Seattle Times: Did the Ice Age have its own Rodins?

I've wondered a few times what made anyone pick up a rock or a chunk of wood or a reed and carve, draw, or otherwise try to create a representative image of some other object. Usually I have wondered this immediately after viewing some particularly beautiful artistic creation that reminds me of my own pitifully untalented existence.

Seems the smartest folks in the fields of antiquities wonder about this too:

What does it take to become an artist?

Do you need to study it first, or do you just pick up a brush or a knife and do it?

That question lies at the heart of a prolonged debate among archaeologists and anthropologists over the origin of figurative art—drawing, sculpting or otherwise creating recognizable images of figures or objects—and what it implies about human cultural development.

For years, scholars regarded the appearance of figurative art as the initiation of an evolutionary process—that art became progressively more sophisticated as humans experimented with styles and techniques and passed this knowledge to the next generation.

But a growing body of evidence suggests that modern humans, virtually from the moment they appeared in Ice Age Europe, were able to produce startlingly sophisticated art. Artistic ability thus did not "evolve," many scholars said, but has instead existed in modern humans (the talented ones, anyway) throughout their existence.

Writing in the journal Nature, anthropologist Nicholas Conard, of Germany's University of Tuebingen, added to this view, reporting the discovery in a cave in the Jura Mountains of three small, carefully made figurines carved from mammoth ivory between 30,000 and 33,000 years ago.

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