What theories have scholars developed about the purpose and meaning of Paleolithic cave paintings?    

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Scholars have developed all kinds of theories about the purpose and meaning of Paleolithic cave paintings, including decoration, religious ritual, symbolism, boundary marking, or a combination of all of these.

Some scholars, like Paul Bahn, once believed that Paleolithic cave paintings were merely decorative and had no other purpose. This is not an accepted theory today, however, for scholars have made further studies of this art and have come up with other possibilities.

One of these possibilities focuses on the religious meaning of these paintings. Some scholars, like Paul Mellars, think the paintings were part of a ritual that hunters believed helped them control the animals depicted and feed their communities. Many of these animals are depicted as wounded, and this might indicate some sort of ritual to achieve a successful hunt. Other scholars suggest that shamans created the art while in a trance. In this case, the paintings may have been tools to help the shamans enter the spirit world.

Still other scholars wonder if the paintings are symbolic somehow, perhaps of the relationships between males and females in the community or of various myths and legends of these early people. In this case, the cave art might have helped people better understand and interpret their world.

Another theory proposes that cave paintings were some kind of boundary markers that showed who controlled a particular territory. People may have used these drawings to claim a spot and to try to prevent other groups from honing in on the hunt in that area.

No one knows for sure what the purpose and meaning of Paleolithic cave paintings were. Perhaps early peoples used this art for many different purposes, including those listed above.

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