About 250 000 years ago a party of humans rested by some welcome hot springs high on the Tibetan plateau. While the adults rested or perhaps prepared food and the camp, the children played-at art. We know this because their tiny handprints have been found all over some limestone rocks as Matthew Bennet and Sally Reynolds explain in The Conversation
Who were these humans? The date and place suggest our Denisovan cousins, whom we know to have had art, as did our other close cousins, the Neanderthals. All of which closes the distance between them and our own branch of humanity to a vanishingly small distance. Especially as their DNA has survived in our genomes, as the discoveries of the ingenious Professor Paabo have made clear.
It’s charming to think that art grew from the games of children. What the busy adults made of it we shall never know. It raises oblique questions about the offerings in certain modern galleries and museums and the maturity of those who produced them. Above all, it reminds us of the devilish question posed by Rudyard Kipling in The Conundrum of the Workshops:
When the first flush of a newborn sun fell first on Eden’s Green and Gold
Our father Adam sat under a tree and scratched a stick in the mold
And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart
Till The Devil whispered behind the leaves-“It’s pretty-but is it Art?“