The Culture of the Cave People

Article excerpt

Deep in the heart of the earth where the magic is very strong, a young man, by the light of a torch, strokes the charred end of a stick along the cave wall. A bison springs to life. Dipping a piece of fur into the earth-red pigment, he dabs color into the form. He has captured the bison's likeness ... thus, he has captured its spirit. Surely, without its spirit the bison will be easily trapped tomorrow during the hunt.

Other animals, painted in the past, jump from the walls as the torchlight flickers ... the woolly mammoth ... the reindeer ... sacred art. It is the way of the cave people.

So read the invitation to The Culture of the Cave People, a comprehensive look at prehistoric human life, produced and performed by the fifth graders and TASC (Targeted Alternative Strategies Class) students of Palmetto Elementary School.

The art of a people is a reflection of their culture. To better understand the art of early man, my students and I delved into their day to-day lives, concentrating chiefly on the Cro-Magnon who lived 15,000-30,000 years ago. In addition to these cave paintings we were also interested in other early art media such as carved figurines and early basketry and jewelry.

We wanted to learn how archaeologists and others gleaned the knowledge we have today about these fascinating individuals: people so rugged, yet exhibiting such sensitivity in their art.

Originally my students and I had planned to transform the hallway outside the artroom into a prehistoric cave complete with early paintings and drawings. As we began to discuss the cave's construction, however, our enthusiasm took over and a decision was made to expand our project into one that would allow us to express to others (thereby reinforcing in ourselves) all we had learned about early man.

The resulting production required not only the hallway, but the artroom, the grounds outside the building, and a nearby classroom in another building. The program was presented to our fourth grade students with a special presentation given by fifth graders and TASC students from another school. Third and fourth graders viewed a modified version of the program.

Each of the approximately 125 fifth graders and TASC students had a role in the presentation. They acted as cave people, student group guides, junior archaeologists, assistants in the hands-on activities, or members of the film crew. Their classroom teachers supervised each activity area.

The program began outside the art building. Groups of five students gathered into a double circle where they were welcomed by the Shaman of a clan of cave people. At the conclusion of the Shaman's introduction, each group of five was led by student guides to a separate activity area. …