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Cavemen Better at Animal Depiction Than Modern Artists: Study

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Dec 07, 2012 06:44 AM EST
Cave paintings
Cave paintings (Photo : Reuters)

Cavemen depicted the movement of four-legged animals in their art much better than modern artists, a new study reveals.

A team of researchers led by Gabor Horvath from the Eotvos University (Budapest), Hungary, examined at least 1,000 artwork created by prehistoric and modern artists, to determine how well they have portrayed the limb altitudes of the four-legged animals such as horses and elephants.

Four-legged animals move their legs in a similar sequence while walking or running. They keep their left-hind foot first on the ground, followed by the left-front foot. Next, the right-hind foot hits the ground and then the right-front foot. The speed at which the legs are moved differs from each other, LiveScience has reported .

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During 1880s, photographer Eadweard Muybridge used motion pictures to depict the movements of horses. The research team analyzed the images of the quadrupeds in three different periods. They examined cave paintings of prehistoric artists, artwork done before Muybridge's illustrations of the four-legged animals and artwork done post the Muybridgean period, after his work became public.

The error rate of artists' depiction of four-legged animals in randomly selected samples was 73.3 percent, researchers stated. The error rate of pre-Muybridgean quadruped illustrations was 83.5 percent, whereas the error rate decreased to 57.9 percent after 1887 (post-Muybridgean period).

Experts were surprised to find that the error rate of artwork rendered by cavemen was lowest at 46.2 percent. Modern artists performed worse than the taxidermists of natural history museums, animal anatomists and designers of animal toy models in depicting horse walks. The error rate of taxidermists in portraying the walk of the animals was 41.1- 43.1 percent.

"Prehistoric men illustrated the walking of quadrupeds with almost the same error rate (46.2 percent) as the taxidermists of natural history museums," researchers wrote in a paper.

This suggests that the Paleolithic men were able to depict the motion of their prey animals more precisely than modern artists.

The findings of the study, "Cavemen Were Better at Depicting Quadruped Walking than Modern Artists: Erroneous Walking Illustrations in the Fine Arts from Prehistory to Today," are published in the open access journal PLOS ONE.

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