Time Before Memory, an interactive prehistoric tale
Time Before Memory is an interactive story that I’m developing in Twine about people who lived in northern Spain and southern France during the Paleolithic Period 29,000 to 40,000 years ago. It’s the prototype of a larger research project. Visitors read the story and make choices in each passage about which branch of the story to explore next.
The image above is of one of the entrances to Las Monedas cave in the Monte del Castillo cave system near Puente Viesgo in northeastern Spain. Some of the paintings – especially images of hands – are 40,000 years old. There were Nanderthal communities in the region 40,000 years ago. But were there Homo Sapiens Sapiens communities there as well? That was early for us, but who knows. I’m speculating that the hands were painted by Neanderthal artists. The site is about 15 kilometers from Altamira.
This interactive story imagines what life was like for the people who painted the cave walls. I’m still working on story details of some of the passages and links as well as the images and sound efx. It is almost finished, so please play the story/game and send me feedback!
More About Time Before Memory
Time Before Memory is about the end of human evolution. It’s not a natural, gradual ending. Things will not have run their course, but rather we become extinct.
There is no such thing as the Anthropocene Epic. Let me just say that this is only a clever academic turn of phrase that insists on humanity as the center of earthly creation just as Ptolemy insisted on the Earth as the center of the Universe. We are in the Holocene and this is where we remain, and we are destroying everything around us.
Let’s go back to the Paleolithic and explore the origins of our relationship to each other and to our fellow Homo Sapiens, including our sisters and brothers, the Neanderthal. Let’s look at the idea of species and the idea of territory and the idea of home. Look at the rocks, the animals, the earth. Look at settlement and look at migration. Ask yourself what has changed.
The art of 40,000 – 15,000 years ago is indecipherable, if one wants to present a correct reading or interpretation. But we can make informed guesses. We may look at the work and catch glimpses, for example, of how societies understood the relationship of humans to animals, and of the human to animal spectrum that was the foundation for survival. We may glimpse both difference and similarity in how humans and animals are depicted. More animals than humans, to be certain. Not self-absorbed, then, but looking outward?
It’s just a guess. We can also study the practice itself of the artists. The materials are still in use – mineral pigments and charcoal, engraving and carving, foundation and depiction, outlines, shading, molding forms with strokes, shading and coloring, abstraction, repetition, and animation. It’s the timeline that has it’s own message. The same type of image drawn over the same type of image, but drawn a few thousand years later. The mystery is compelling and it’s through this mystery that the spiritual element emerges.
So as societies developed, as people settled, land became possession, spirits became gods and so we went to war. We started out by destroying anyone who was not ‘us.’
This is the story behind Time Before Memory. Remember, it is fiction, it mixes artworks, eras, human species, and events. Play it as a game. The more choices one makes as a reader/player, the more one reveals.
Most of the background images are from photographs I took near the caves. I was not allowed to photograph inside the caves but the grounds and the cave sites themselves were rich in suggestive detail. One image of the village of Cabrerets, which is at the foot of the Pech Merle cave system, is by Nancy Mackowsky. Other images are from the Amédéé Lemozi Museum at Pech Merle in France, the visitor’s center at the Monte del Castillo in Puente Viesgo, Spain, and at the Museum of Natural History in New York. A few are from UNESCO which has provided an image of the lions panel at Chauvet under Creative Commons licensing. The story is by me.