The shaman would retreat into the darkness of the caves, enter into a trance state and then paint images of their visions, perhaps with some notion of drawing power out of the cave walls themselves. Dale Guthrie, who has studied both highly artistic and publicized paintings and a variety of lower quality art and figurines, identifies a wide range of skill and ages among the artists.
He hypothesizes that the main themes in the paintings and other artifacts (powerful beasts, risky hunting scenes and the representation of women in the Venus figurines) are the fantasies of adolescent males, who constituted a large part of the human population at the time.
Henri Breuil interpreted the paintings as being hunting magic, meant to increase the number of animals.
The paintings and other markings span from the Lower Paleolithic to the Bronze Age, and even into the Middle Ages.
There are over 150 figures already catalogued, including those that emphasize the engravings of a few deer, completed with shadowing.
One might expect that the first examples of art would be simple and crude.
However the oldest cave paintings are the evidence that modern humans were astonishingly quick in developing their artistic skills.
The exact purpose of the paleolithic cave paintings is not known.
Evidence suggests that they were not merely decorations of living areas, since the caves in which they have been found do not have signs of ongoing habitation.For instance, the reindeer depicted in the Spanish cave of Cueva de las Monedas places the drawings in the last Ice Age.The oldest known cave art comes from the Cave of El Castillo in northern Spain, and may be more than 40,000 years old.However, more than 80 radiocarbon dates had been taken by 2011, with samples taken from torch marks and from the paintings themselves, as well as from animal bones and charcoal found on the cave floor.The radiocarbon dates from these samples show that there were two periods of creation in Chauvet: 35,000 years ago and 30,000 years ago.They are also often located in areas of caves that are not easily accessible.