If you want to see glossy photographs of alien worlds, your desires may be fulfilled in an unexpected place: the prehistory of homo sapiens. NYU anthropologist Randall White's beautiful book Prehistoric Art: The Symbolic Journey of Humankind (Abrams) is one of the best books out there devoted to the art of proto-humans who walked the Earth tens of thousands of years ago. In pictures and commentary, White recreates a world so unlike our own that it might as well be on the cold steppes of Mars.
These cave paintings, statues and carved bones were made by our distant ancestors, including Neanderthals. But they are, in a very basic sense, art made by non-humans.
Cro-Magnons, Neanderthals, and Ice-Age homo sapiens lived in a world utterly unlike our own. And the art they left behind offers us a glimpse into consciousness forged in an alien world without cities, agriculture, or wheels. Along with haunting images of 12,000-year-old Ice Age fertility statues and 30,000-year-old paintings of animals in caves, White's commentary is a treat. He believes that art was the earliest form of human symbolic communication, emerging roughly around the same time as complex language.
These art objects, seen through Randall's eyes, become messages from a world where symbolic communication itself was an experiment. It's unclear exactly what these objects mean, but it's certain that they were an innovative way for early humans to express themselves and capture images of what they saw in a now-vanished world. Even if you're not an anthropology buff, this gorgeously-illustrated book will appeal. It's not a history lesson, exactly. It's a chance to see Earth through alien eyes.
Prehistoric Art [Powells]