Most people think of cave paintings, when ancient art is mentioned, however there is much more. At the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic era of prehistory (from 40,000 BCE onwards), fine art suddenly came to Europe. These early forms of early art were either portable sculptures (mobiliary art), often of small female "venus figurines", or pictures and symbols that are painted, drawn or carved on the walls and ceilings of caves (parietal art). Later on, art became more integrated into settlements and daily life.
In 2008 Archaeologists discovered two sets of art kits a cave in South Africa. The team of researchers, led by Professor Christopher Henshilwood from the universities of Bergen and Witwatersrand, believe that the ochre was used for forms of artwork.
The two tool kits thought to be 100,000 years old, includes abalone shells, ochre, bone, charcoal, grindstones and hammerstones. The ochre – made from soft rock with red or yellow pigments - was probably ground into a fine powder by the use of quartzite cobbles, before being mixed and heated with crushed stones or bones in the abalone shells. Microscopic inspection of the abalone surfaces reveals a "high water mark" on the shells' inner wall, as evidence that an unknown liquid, probably urine, blood, animal fats or water was used for paint mixing.
As a painting pigment, ochre is a mixture of fine clay and iron oxide that exists in four forms:
In addition to the Pigment, there are two other elements needed to make a usable paint: the Binder - this is required to keep the paint together and allows it to stick to the surface being painted; the Extender is a liquid that allows the paint to stretch over a larger surface area and typically urine, blood, animal fats or water would be used.
Ochre is sometimes associated with early human burials, such as the Neanderthal skeletons at Le Moustier and La Chapelle-aux-Saints. However one of the most famous uses of red ochre at a burial, was of a young man who died 23,500 years ago - the so called the "Red Lady" of Paviland. The oldest anatomically modern human remains found in the UK (now in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History), his red dyed bones were discovered between 18th and 25th January 1823 by Rev. William Buckland, during an archaeological dig at Goat's Hole Cave in South Wales.
One mine in UK where ochre pigments are still extracted by Free Miners is Clearwell Caves (Gloucestershire). Archaeological evidence indicates that mining for ochre began in the Forest of Dean area at least 4,500 years ago. A small number of mining hammer stones, shaped by the pecking technique, have been found locally and a bear resemblance to stones found at other site mining sites, such as the Alderley Edge copper mines (Cheshire) and Les Mines De Cabrières (SW, France). Extensive iron and coal working at Clearwell Caves was there during Roman times. When the Roman Empire moved into the Forest of Dean, the local miners may have remained free from direct Imperial control on condition they supply the Romans with their produce; this may have been the origin of the Free Mining system.
Oldest Known Art
Rock or Cave art can help us understand more about the ways of our early ancestors, such as how they hunted and ate, how they viewed and understand the world around them. Rock art is generally divided into either Petroglyphs (carvings into stone surfaces), Pictographs (rock and cave paintings) or Petroforms (art made by aligning or piling natural stones).The most spectacular examples of Pictographs have been discovered in Spain and France, where archeologists have found around 350 caves containing Paleolithic artworks (one of the most famous example is a Lascaux in southwestern France). Other decorated caves have been found in many parts of the world, including Africa, Argentina, Australia, India and China.
(Ancientcraft interpretation of the famous Chinese Horse)
The pigments used to paint Lascaux came from readily available minerals such as red, yellow, brown and purple ochre, charcoal and manganese dioxide for black and white china clay - there are 25 tints, including 10 reds, 6 yellows, 6 blacks, and 1 white. No brushes have been found, so it is likely that the broad black outlines were applied using mats of moss or hair, or even with chunks of raw color. The surfaces appear to have been covered by paint blown directly from the mouth, from bark trays or through a tube and colour-stained, hollowed-out bones have been found in the caves. The discovery of artificial holes in the walls have suggested that wooden scaffolding was used, to allow the artists to reach inaccessible places, but without any natural light, these works could only have been created simply with the aid of torches or stone lamps filled with animal fat.
(image provenance / © unknown)
It is often wondered why our early ancestors would venture deep into caves in virtual darkness and how they selected each location to create such stunning images. In some cases, it is clear that the natural shape of the rock was used to determine the characteristics of the artwork. However some archaeologists, such as Iegor Reznikoff, have also been experimenting with acoustics as a form of echo-location. By using human voices to create basic sounds and then listening for an unusual resonant response; any changes in the sound or echoes often led to the position of cave art.
French Archaeologist Marc Azéma (University of Toulouse–Le Mirail Culture and member of APEC) and independent French artist Florent Rivère suggest that by around 30,000 BP Paleolithic artists may have used "animation effects" in their cave paintings, which would explain why multiple heads or limbs can be seen. Azéma spent 20 years researching Stone Age animation techniques, by isolated 53 figures in 2 French caves (including Lascaux) that appear to superimpose two or more images to represent gallop, head tossing, and tail shaking. To render the animation, Azéma deconstructed each image into single animal elements and then superimpose it in successive images on top.
Venus figurines is a common description of around 200 of prehistoric statuettes (from the Upper Paleolithic and Neolithic periods) of females, mostly found in Europe and the far east. Most of the figurines are roughly oval-shaped, with the head and legs tapering away with relatively no detail. The widest point in the middle (hips/belly) often has certain parts of the human anatomy are exaggerated, such as large breasts, buttocks and thick thighs. They were carved by Stone Age sculptors in all manner of different materials, ranging from soft stone (steatite, calcite or limestone), wood, ivory and bone or ceramic clays.
Here is a selected list of the oldest and most famous examples of prehistoric venus figurines:
Body Art, or more commonly referred to as tattoos, has been practiced for centuries in many cultures spread throughout the world. The oldest known tattoos belong to Ötzi the 5,300 year old Iceman, who had 57 carbon tattoos consisting of simple dots and lines or crosses on his lower spine, behind his left knee and on his right ankle. The tattoos are blue and black, with some are more visible than others. They were probably made by first cutting lightly into his skin, and then rubbing charcoal into the incisions, according to Maria Anna Pabst (researcher at the Medical University of Graz, Austria) who applied light and electron microscopes to minutely thin sections of several tattoos as well as a non-tattooed flesh from his inner thigh.
Ötzi's tattoos were originally thought to be of ornamentation or religious value, however they were found in places on his body that would normally be covered by hair or clothing. As non-ornamental tattoos have previously been found in similar locations on mummies in Siberia and South America, experts from three acupuncture societies examined the locations of each tattoo and speculated they were of therapeutic importance. In their opinion, nine tattoos could be identified as being located directly on, or within six millimeters of, traditional acupuncture points. Two more were located on an acupuncture meridian and one tattoo was used as a local point. The remaining three tattoos were situated between 6-13mm from the closest acupuncture point.
X-rays of the ice man's body revealed evidence of arthritis in the hip joints, knees, ankles and lumbar spine. Further analysis showed that his intestines were filled with whipworm eggs, which can cause severe abdominal pain. The experts remarked that "the tattoos could be viewed as a medical report from the stone age, or possibly as a guide to self-treatment marking where to puncture when pains occur." If this is true, acupuncture may be 2000 years older than originally thought.
The first written reference to the word, "tattoo" (or Samoan "Tatau") appears in the journal of Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), the naturalist aboard Captain Cook's ship the HMS Endeavor in 1769: "I shall now mention the way they mark themselves indelibly, each of them is so marked by their humor or disposition".
60km west of Konya (Turkey) is the oldest known Neolithic settlement called Çatalhöyük (the word 'höyük' means 'mound') . The site was first discovered in 1958 by James Mellaart and excavated between 1961 and 1965. Mellaart suggested that the village was occupied from between 7,000 and 5,500 BC. Since 1993 a team of archaeologists, led by Cambridge archaeologist Professor Ian Hodder, has been carrying out new excavations in order to understand more the people who once inhabited the site, which has a number of wall paintings depicting animals and hunting scenes.
The small museum shows some of the artefacts founds on site and displays characteristic artwork (see below).
At the entrance to the site is a reconstruction of one of the dwellings - two of the white-washed walls are decorated . One of the murals is thought to be the representation of an urban settlement, with the twin peaks of the erupting volcano "Hasan Dagi" (3253m stratovolcano, inactive since around 7500BC) in the background. Spots on the volcano's flanks have been described as "glowing firebombs of lava". The mural is also believed by many to be a map of Çatalhöyük, dated around 6,200 BC. It is painted in ochre pigments on a mud brick wall which was first prepared with many layers of lime plaster.
At the excavation site, various murals and decoration can still be seen on the plastered walls
Ancientcraft ~ Stone Age Replica Art Collection
As part of Ancientcraft's Stone Age Living History, I have collected or made a few pieces of replica art that I use to demonstrate not only the skill of the craftsman, but also the artistic value and interpretation they must have possessed.
NOTE: The time period relates to British periods only - local classification of time periods may differ.
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