di Pietro Gaietto


In the 18th century, development of research and modern science was encouraged by the new mentality of the Enlightenment. This intellectual, civil and political movement that flourished especially in France and Great Britain aimed to liberate man and society from the shadows of ignorance and superstition through the use of reason.

Certainly the concepts of evolution originated in or were strengthened by the Enlightenment, but I do not know if Jacques Boucher de Crèvecoeur de Perthes, considered by science as the father of Prehistory, actually believed in evolution.

His father, Jules Armand Guillaume Boucher de Crèvecoeur, was a botanist (scientist) and a customs officer and Boucher de Perthes in turn became a customs officer. Raised at Abbéville in a cultured environment, he turned the paternal home into a sanctuary of science. This patron saint of science and art dedicated most of his youth to poetry, theater and political economy.

His interest in science came only at maturity. In 1837 he made discoveries in the alluvial deposits of the Somme: bones of pachyderms and chipped tools he attributed to the Antidiluvian Man. The distinction between Paleolithic (Antidiluvian) and Neolithic (Celtic) is made in his treatise on "Antiquités Celtiques et Antédiluviennes". Also of great significance are his discoveries of carved stone figures. For the fundamental scientific merit of his work, France recognizes him as the father of Prehistory.

In his private life, Boucher de Perthes had an intense sentimental relationship with Napoleon Bonaparte's sister, Paolina Borghese, whose famous portrait by the sculptor Antonio Canova, protected by Napoleon himself, a lover of the arts, depicts her as Venus Victrix.

Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France and King of Italy (1769-1821)in turn ordered important initiatives in science and the arts. He dispatched 160 scholars and savants to Egypt as well as 400 engravers and 1,600 artists and technicians, to draw ancient Egyptian works of art (architecture, sculpture and paintings) and all the animal species. It was an immense effort that resulted in the gigantic Description de l'Égypte: ou, Recueil des observations et des recherches qui ont été faites en Égypte pendant l'expédition de l'armée française, published on Napoleon's orders. For his great cultural undertakings Napoleon is considered the father of Egyptology.

Archaeological research in prehistory (paleoethnology) was introduced in Italy at the end of the nineteenth century by French scholars excavating the caves of Balzi Rossi in Grimaldi (Imperia) on the border with France. The study of paleoanthropology in Italy was already influenced by Darwin's theory of evolution.

The humanities gradually began to flourish in all industrialized countries of the world, dividing into disciplines and a multitude of specializations.

In almost 200 years of research on prehistoric man, great discoveries have been made. These have been integrated through the use of increasingly sophisticated methods of dating the finds, producing a chronology that encompasses several million years.

This book begins with skeletal finds of man (Homo habilis) and does not include the pre-human phase of hominids which existed before Homo habilis.

Of the human skulls, the lateral and semi-lateral norms have been privileged with respect to the development of anthropomorphic sculpture from the entire Paleolithic. Indeed, the different human species that precede Homo habilis all possess cranial profiles that differ between one species and another, while affinities between certain skulls and heads are revealed in stone carving from the same Paleolithic cultural phases.

Based on Paleolithic anthropomorphic sculpture, considerations were made about the physical evolution of man and also about behavioral aspects resembling those of modern man. Interesting considerations of intelligence have also emerged.

The dominant interpretation of prehistoric man's intelligence continues to reflect the prejudices of the past and the conviction that man derived from monkeys.

In my opinion, it is wrong to believe the intelligence of ancient man was limited and that he had an extremely slow evolution until about 35,000 years ago, when Homo sapiens sapiens, the creator of art, appeared to prove that man was now intelligent.

My interpretation is different. I believe man was already intelligent two million years ago –that is, since he was called Homo habilis –and there is evidence of this in his activities throughout the Lower Paleolithic.

I consider intelligence as a natural feature, born with man, and which has guaranteed his survival. The action of his intelligence is realized in material culture by the production of stone tools. Tool-making is indeed an action engendered by intelligence through reasoning and its product, besides being quickly finished, also constitutes a basis for further progress. This has happened: during the Oldowan (the first civilization of Homo habilis) there were no more than ten types of stone tool, while in the Gravettian stage –the last civilization of the Upper Paleolithic – the typology is much richer and includes bone tools, with the total number of types increasing to approximately 70.

Technological advances have gradually occurred, always improving the technology of previous phases through inventions. It was human intelligence that achieved this during the Paleolithic era just as in historical periods up to the present day.

In the spiritual culture, intelligence was realized during the lower Paleolithic in art, represented by lithic sculpture that is almost exclusively anthropomorphic.

As with tool-making, the execution of sculpture presumes the action of intelligence, although sculpture requires more effort.

Considering that sculpted anthropomorphic representations are almost all bicephalic or double-faced, and since the bicephalic representations and double-faced sculptures of later historic periods represent divinities, the Paleolithic sculptures are also considered divinities by analogy. It follows that Paleolithic anthropomorphic sculpture has been produced to represent religious subjects. Moreover, it would be very difficult to imagine that Lower Paleolithic art was produced for aesthetic purposes.

Progress in anthropomorphic sculptures, more beautiful than in previous periods, is due to invention, that is technological advances. There is no progress of intelligence in itself, but rather a development of cognitive functions that perform certain activities.

Another component of art is style. By style I mean the shape and the deformation of the represented figure, also called stylistic deformation, which spread throughout the Paleolithic even in zoomorphic painting and later in art around the world during post-Paleolithic and historic times.

In conclusion, in the lower and middle Paleolithic, style is not to be understood as what we consider beauty today, for which the term style is applied indiscriminately.

In mankind's spiritual life, style is an animal component like intelligence, as it is perpetually moving, that is, it evolves into transformation, regardless of reason. Style is like the clothing of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic images and on it is based the judgment "I like it" or "I don't like it".

Intelligence acts in the achievement of sculpture and it also uses style, but style does not depend on intelligence; it depends rather on the unconscious need for the organism to be beautiful. This consideration arises from recognition that style is irrational.

In conclusion, that intelligence has acted is apparent throughout the Paleolithic as in historic periods, both in material culture (stone tools) and in spiritual culture (art). The belief persists that human intelligence was low and reached maturity only when, through evolution, a transformation into Homo sapiens sapiens occurred. Instead, as Paleolithic artifacts have shown, human intelligence in the Paleolithic was stable and constant, just as in historic periods when inventions, made possible by new technologies, favored social progress. This has continued to lead to new inventions to this day without any need to postulate an increase in intelligence.


Special thanks to the authors of blogs, museum websites, universities all over the world, free online encyclopedias and other online sources of images, whose courtesy has greatly contributed to the realization of this book.



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