Gönnersdorf tent, Bosinski

Paleolithic tent reconstructions by Pierre Cattelain and Claire Bellier at the Musée du Malgré-Tout in Treignes, Belgium.

The peoples of the Palaeolithic are commonly referred to as cavemen, but they actually did not live deep inside caves, but survived harsh climates in simple animal-hide huts and tents, which were invariably situated in daylight settings — just inside a cave mouth or tucked under a rock overhang or in the open air. The archaeological record is replete with carefully excavated Palaeolithic habitation sites.

The Paleolithic tent reconstructions from the Musée du Malgré-Tout in Treignes, Belgium, outline the architectural achievements of Homo erectus through to Homo sapien, covering the period between 1.2 million years ago to 12,500 BCE, including specific reconstructions of Pont-de-Lavaud à Eguzon (France), Cerisier (France), Méziritch (Ukraine), Plateau Parrain (France), Pincevent (France), Gönnersdorf (Germany), and Closeau (France).

Musée du Malgré-Tout
image projection, Musée du Malgré-Tout

The Gönnersdorf tent had a few small holes in the hides, which projected moving images inside. A small hole (small yellow circle) projects the image of Pierre Cattelain (large yellow circle) on to a rabbit hide (image presented 180º).


Wall of hides under a rock overhang
Ghost Horse

Under a rock overhang, tree branches were fashioned in a framework and leaned over a gap in the rock, enclosing a small room-sized area. Bison hides were draped over the framework and a horse was stationed outside in front of the hide wall. A hole in the hide projected the image of the horse inside. (Image presented at 180º).


Straight tree limbs were used to create a small teepee frame. Hides were draped around the frame and rocks were used to hold the frame and hides in place. A hole projected an image of the outside scene into the tent. Visible are the distant hills in the background, bison in the field in the middle ground, and the wire fence in the extreme foreground.

Impact on early art

Projected horse distortion

Image of a living horse projected onto a tilted surface inside a camera obscura. (M. Gatton)

Chinese horse, Lascaux

Horse, Cave of Lascaux, France. (M. Gatton)

The optical distortions that appear in the projected images inside the tents also appear in a conventionalized form in many Paleolithic cave artworks.