Cave Art (2)

Cave art is synonymous with the stone age. Images animals in dark caves are fascinating and the paint used was ochre made from soft rock with red or yellow pigments, that was probably ground into a fine powder by the use of quartzite cobbles and mixed with animal fat as the binding agent. Painting would have been performed in near darkness, with just the glow from a animal fat lamp. This simple activity will allow you to recreate some of the magic for a history/archaeology/painting club, classroom assignment or themed party.

Materials & Tools:

  • Clean soil (ideally different hues/colours)
  • Clean (play) sand
  • Crushed clean charcoal
  • Crushed white chalk
  • Fat (vegetable shortening / margarine / lard)
  • Water
  • Liquid soap or PVA glue (optional)
  • Mixing bowels & spoon
  • Old paint brush (optional)
  • Calico or Muslin gauze sheet / crushed brown paper (to look like a cave wall)
  • Gaffer Tape / pins /nails (depending on the surface)
  • Plastic gloves (optional)
  • Large rocks (optional)
  • Small flashlight (optional)
  • Plastic Sheeting/newspaper (optional)
  • Hand wipes / soapy water (optional)


Decide on the surface you want cave paint:

  • Calico or Muslin gauze: Mount the calico sheet on a flat surface using the Gaffer tape (pins / nails) to securely fix it to the desired location - this would be an ideal choice if you want a group to work on a large picture
  • Brown paper: For individual pictures, crush the paper, then unfold to stimulate a cave surface
  • Large Rocks: For a realistic effect, you could paint large rocks


In the simple messy activity, the idea is to have fun and be creative.

  • Provide each child /group with plastic sheeting; (optional) gloves; mixing bowels and spoons
  • Place some of the soil into a mixing bowel and add a tablespoon of fat
  • Mix together the soil and fat (using hands or a spoon)
  • Repeat above with different coloured soil
  • Repeat above with sand
  • Repeat above with crushed charcoal
  • Repeat above with crushed chalk
  • Provide each child /group with Calico or Muslin gauze sheet / crushed brown paper
  • Using fingers (or old paintbrush / toothbrush) start to paint a prehistoric scene


  • Add more soil if the mixture is too light in colour
  • Add more fat if the mixture is too dry
  • Carefully melt the fat and add to boiling water and liquid soap to get a good mix - then add colour (sand, charcoal, soil or chalk)
  • To crush charcoal / chalk pieces - place in a plastic bag; tie or hold the penning (getting most of the air out); place bag on a firm surface; hit the bag with a rock or heavy blunt object.


  • A thinning agent would probably been used during prehistoric times achieve the necessary fluidity, possibly saponin from the roots of plants like Yucca. To replicate the foaming action of the saponin, try some liquid soap/detergent to help thin the mix if required.
  • Use a PVA glue and water mix instead of fat - this will make the picture more permanent once dry
  • For a bit more realism, have the child / group stick paper to the bottom of a desk, using gaffer tape. Provide each child / group with a small flashlight (or candle with careful adult supervision) and then darken the room. Ask the child / group to crawl under the desk and paint pictures of prehistoric animals (e.g. mammoth), using the paints made earlier. This will give them some idea of how it may have been for the ancient artists.

Further Activity Examples:

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