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On the Origins of the Arts

Sociobiologist E.O. Wilson on the evolution of culture

May-June 2012

The human urge to create art appears magnificently in the Paleolithic paintings from roughly 30,000 years ago at Chauvet Cave, in southern France. Here, the Panel of the Horses.

The human urge to create art appears magnificently in the Paleolithic paintings from roughly 30,000 years ago at Chauvet Cave, in southern France. Here, the Panel of the Horses.

Photographs courtesy of the French Ministry of Culture and Communication, Regional Direction for Cultural Affairs, Rhône-Alpes region/Regional Department of Archaeology

A bison, shown in twisted perspective; the doubling of the hindquarters and the extra legs may depict the animal running, or two bison side by side.

A bison, shown in twisted perspective; the doubling of the hindquarters and the extra legs may depict the animal running, or two bison side by side.

Photographs courtesy of the French Ministry of Culture and Communication, Regional Direction for Cultural Affairs, Rhône-Alpes region/Regional Department of Archaeology

The Lion Panel, with bison (the lions’ likely prey), a young mammoth, and rhinoceros

The Lion Panel, with bison (the lions’ likely prey), a young mammoth, and rhinoceros

Photographs courtesy of the French Ministry of Culture and Communication, Regional Direction for Cultural Affairs, Rhône-Alpes region/Regional Department of Archaeology

Red bear

Red bear

Photographs by Jean Clottes/courtesy of the French Ministry of Culture and Communication, Regional Direction for Cultural Affairs, Rhône-Alpes region/Regional Department of Archaeology

One rhinoceros from a group of 17

One rhinoceros from a group of 17

Photographs by Jean Clottes/courtesy of the French Ministry of Culture and Communication, Regional Direction for Cultural Affairs, Rhône-Alpes region/Regional Department of Archaeology

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The text excerpted here was posted with permission of W.W. Norton, but that permission has since expired and the text has been taken down. 

Read a Harvard Magazine profile of E.O. Wilson here.

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