Early Human Art

More than 65,000 years ago, a Neanderthal painted in red ochre on the wall of a cave.

Paintings on a section of the La Pasiega cave wall, including a ladder shape composed of red horizontal and vertical lines.
(Photograph: P. Saura/PA)

Modern humans moved into Spain about 40,000 years ago, replacing Neanderthals who were there 120,000 years ago. In Science magazine last week, scientists at Southampton, Durham and Leipzig describe and date calcite crystals that had grown on top of the pictures.


A drawing of the red ladder symbol from the La Pasiega cave. Dating shows it has a minimum age of 64,000 years but it is unclear if the animals and other symbols were painted later.
Graffiti from the La Pasiega cave. Dating shows it has a minimum age of 64,000 years but it is unclear if the animals and other symbols were painted later. (Illustration: Breuil et al)


In a second paper, published in Science Advances, D. Hoffman et al describe dyed and decorated seashells found in a cave in southeast Spain. They were made by Neanderthals 115,000 years ago.

Darwins’ Doodles

Charles Darwin was born this day in 1809. A manuscript of his 1859 Origin of Species is found to have doodles by some of his children, especially George and Francis.


Their work is being curated by the American Museum of Natural History and some of the doodles are at brainpickings.org.


One shows an early view of Brexit:



Some of the doodles mixed botanical objects with the then topical infantry:


while others were more conventional.


Art in India

In 1937 A. Sher-Gil painted Dressing the Bride.


Recently, society in India has been changing rapidly, change reflected in the scientific influence on its art.


– V. Sundaram 2005-8. Master Plan


– A.Dodiya 2017. Air is a Mill of Hooks.



– R. Komu 2017. Holy Shiva (from Gandhi to Ambedkan).


– V. Sundaram, 1988. Shifting the Elements II.


– G. Gill 2015. Acts of Appearance.

[Courtesey of Frieze’s India Art Fair in New Dehi, February 2018.]


Scientific journals are using more high quality designs on their front covers than ever before. For example, for some months now, the front cover of the New Phytologist boasts a series of colourful images. The latest is by CE Stanley and shows the two-way flow of dissolved nutrients along vascular cells of roots.


The covers become art forms in their own image, pleasant to the eye even without knowledge of their scientific significance.

Other recent examples show photo-micrographs of sections of red and yellow table beets, a picture of sunflowers in a field:

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a drawing of evolutionary artefacts (a tree of life with a DNA molecule), and an out-of-scale mushroom, enlarged to look like a table in the forest.

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Nature magazine has for-long developed its standard of design,


while in the US, Science usually has even more artistic license:

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Self-Organised Art

Fernan Federici’s microscopic images of plants, bacteria, and crystals are a fine example of finding art in unexpected places.


-fluorescent proteins from a bacterial smear

Federici has recently completed his work at Cambridge where he studied self-organization, the process by which things organize themselves spontaneously and without direction like a flock of birds flying together:



– urea crystals in polarised light

The website wired.com says that ‘More specifically, he was using microscopes and a process called fluorescence microscopy to see if he could identify these kinds of patterns on a cellular level. In fluorescence microscopy, scientists shine a particular kind of light at whatever they’re trying to illuminate and then that substance identifies itself by shining a different color or light back. Sometimes researchers will also attach proteins that they know emit a particular kind of light to substances as a kind of identifier. In the non-microscopic world, it’s like using a black light on a stoner poster.’


– more urea crystals

‘A recent post at wired.com says that ‘Federici grew up with photography as a hobby, so looking through the microscope at all the different colors and patterns he realized that the process was highly visual. He hadn’t seen many images like what he was seeing published for the general public, so he asked for permission from his adviser Jim Haseloff to post the photos on his Flickr site. Today that site is filled with pages and pages of microscopic images, some of which are from his work, while others are just for fun.’


– urea crystals




A show that runs until February is at Mexico City’s Palace of Fine Arts. “Mexican Red, the Cochineal in Art,” traces use of this pigment from the highlands of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica to Europe.

28redpaint1-master768.jpgThere, it became increasingly associated with the projection of power in the 17th and 18th centuries. Cochineal fell into decline in the 19th century, as synthetic dyes were introduced, but was sought out later by the Impressionists.

The cochineal is a Mexican insect that is the source of the dye. This specimen is on display at the exhibition.  (Credit Marco Ugarte/Associated Press)

Van Gogh’s “Bedroom in Arles, Third Version”, 1889, uses cochineal. The artist likened the color to the “red of wine.” (Musée d’Orsay, Paris.)

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The cochineal insect feeds on the prickly pear cactus and was cultivated domestically in Mexico and Peru in pre-Hispanic times. The female can be dried and crushed to extract the red carminic acid. Additives of different acidity produce shades that range from light pink to a deep purple.  (New York Times, November 28th)













Lubaina Himid has become the first black woman to win the Turner Prize. She was born in Zanzibar and now lives in Preston. Her work challenges racial politics and the legacy of slavery.

The judges for the prize praised her “uncompromising tackling of issues including colonial history and how racism persists today”.


Her work uses many satires about the upper class, with the legacy of the colonies and how her own generation experiences racism. She is often compared to Hogarth, especially for her picture ‘a fashionable marriage’.



Anthropologists also continue to speculate about the taxonomy:

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and development of human groups: