The earliest traces of magical practice are found in the European caves of the middle Palaeolithic Age. These belong to the last interglacial period of the Pleistocene period, which has been named the Aurignacian, after the cave-dwellers of Aurignac, whose skeletons, artifacts and drawings link them with the Bushmen of South Africa. In the cave of Gargas, newr Bagneres de Luchon, occur, in addition to spirited and realistic drawings of animals, numerous imprints of human hands in various stages of mutilation.
Some hands had been first smeared with a sticky substances and then pressed on teh rock; others had been held in position to be dusted round with red ochre, or black pigment . Most of the imprinted hands have mutilated fingers; in some cases the first and second joints of one or more fingers are wanting; in others the stumps only of all fingers remain. A close study of the hand imprints makes it evident that they are not to be regarded as those of lepers. There can be little doubt that the joints were removed for a specific purpose, and on this point there is general agreement among anthropologists. A clue to the myster is obtained by the magical custom among the Bushmen of similarly removing finger joints. Mr. G. W. Stow in his The Native Races of South Africa makes reference to this strange form of sacrifice. He once came into contact with a number of Bushmen who "had all lost the first joint of the little finter" which had been removed with a "stone knife" with purpose to ensure a safe journey to the spirit world....
Apparently the finger chopping customs of palaeolithic times had a magical significance. On some of the paintings in the aurignacian caves appear symbols which suggest the slaying with spears and cutting up of animals. Enigmatical signs are another feature. Of special interest are the figures of animal-headed demons, some with hands upraised in the Egyptian attitude of adoration, and others apparently dancing like the animal headed dancing gods of the Bushmen. In the Marsonlas Palaeolithic cave there are semi-human faces of angry demons with staring eyes and monstrous noses. In the Spanish Cave at Cogul several figures of women wearing half-length skirts and shoulder shawls are represted dancing round a nude male. So closely do these females resemble such as usually appear in Bushmen paintings that they might well, but for their location, be credited to this interesting people. Religious dances among the Bushman trives are associated with marriage, birth and burial ceremonies; they are also performed to exorcise demons in cases of sickness. "Dances are to us what prayers are to you," an elderly Bushman once informed a European.
Whether the cave drawings and wood, bone and ivory carvings of the Magdelenian, or late Palaeolithic period at the close of the last ice epoch, are of magical significance is a problem on which there is no general agreement. It is significant to find, however, that several carved ornaments bearing animal figures or enigmatical signs are perforated as if worn as charms. On a piece of horn found at Lorthet, Hautes Pyrenees, are beautiful incised drawings of reindeer and salmon, above which appear mystical symbols. An ape-like demon carved on bone was found at Mas d'Azil: on a reindeer horn from Laugerie Basse a prostrate man with a tail is creeping up on all fours towards a grazing bison. These are some of the instances which lend colour to the view that late Palaeolithic art had its origin in magical beliefs and practices--that hunters carved on the handles of weapons and implements, or scratched on cave walls, the images of the animals they desired to capture--sometimes with the secured co-operation of demons, and sometimes with the aid of magical spells.