Saturday, January 24, 2009

frm our classmate SUEEN

Paleolithic Art (The Birth of Art)

1. Paleolithic Art was produced from about 32,000 to 11,000 years ago.
2. Most early art are found in northern France and northern Spain.

3. What kinds of art were created during this time?
Only two kinds were created. Art was either portable or stationary, and both of these art forms were limited in scope.
Portable art was necessarily small (in order to be portable) and mainly consisted of either figurines or decorated objects. These things were carved (from stone, bone or antler) or modeled with clay. We refer to most of the portable art from this time as figurative, meaning it actually depicted something recognizable, whether animal or human in form. The figurines are often referred to by the collective name of "Venus", as they are unmistakably females of child-bearing build.
Stationary art was just that: it didn't move. The best examples exist in (now famous) cave paintings in western Europe, created during the Paleolithic period. Paints were manufactured from combinations of minerals, ochres, burnt bone meal and charcoal mixed into mediums of water, blood, animal fats and tree saps. We've guessed (and it's only a guess) that these paintings served some form of ritualistic or magical purpose, as they are located far from the mouths of caves where everyday life took place. Cave paintings contain far more non-figurative art, meaning many elements are symbolic rather than realistic. The clear exception, here, is in the depiction of animals, which are vividly realistic (humans, on the other hand, are either completely absent or stick figures).

4. What are the key characteristics of Paleolithic art?

Paleolithic art:
a. Concerned itself with either food (hunting scenes, animal carvings) or fertility (Venus figurines). Its predominant theme was animals.
b. Is considered to be an attempt, by Stone Age peoples, to gain some sort of control over their environment, whether by magic or ritual.
c. Represents a giant leap in human cognition: abstract thinking.

5. Examples:
a. Makapansgat pebble
The Makapansgat pebble or the pebble of many faces, is a 260-gram reddish jasperite cobble with natural chipping and wear patterns that make it look like a crude rendition of a human face and is considered the first manuport (a manuport is a natural object which has been moved from its original context by human agency but otherwise remains unmodified). Though it is definitely not a manufactured object, it has been suggested that some australopithecine (probably refers to the ancestors of the human kind and further information can be found on Wikipedia) or possibly another hominid (any member of the biological family that includes humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans), recognized it as a symbolic face and brought it back to camp. If so, it may be a candidate for the earliest example of symbolic thinking or aesthetic sense in the human heritage. The Makapansgat cobble is the oldest known object of this kind in the world, and for more than one half of the duration of human history it remains alone on our extremely fragmentary archaeological record.
The teacher Wilfred I. Eizman found it in Makapansgat in the Makapansgat valley (or Makapan Valley), South Africa in 1925. Almost 50 years later, Raymond Dart was the first to describe it in 1974.

b. Apollo 11 cave (25,500–23,500 B.C.)
Africa's oldest known paintings, small stone plaquettes with images of animals, were excavated from a rock shelter in southern Namibia in 1969 when the first spacecraft (Apollo 11) landed on the moon, hence its name. The date derived from charcoal deposits found in the layers of sediment surrounding the plaquettes. They may never have formed a part of the shelter wall but, rather, have been loose stones on which paintings were made. Now located in State Museum of Namibia.

c. Human with feline head (The Lion Lady)
A lion headed figure, first called the Lion man (German: Löwenmensch), then the Lion Lady (German: Löwenfrau), is a sculpture made of mammoth ivory. It is the oldest known animal-shaped sculpture in the world and one of the oldest known sculptures in general. The sculpture has also been interpreted as anthropomorphic, giving human characteristics to an animal, although it may have represented a deity. The figurine was determined to be about 32,000 years old.
Its pieces were found in 1939 in Stadel cave in Hohlenstein Mountain in the Lone valley (Germany). Due to the beginning of the Second World War, it was forgotten and only rediscovered thirty years later. The first reconstruction revealed a humanoid figurine without head. During 1997 through 1998 additional pieces of the Sculpture were discovered and the head was reassembled and restored. Today it is pieced together from more than 200 tiny pieces. This 'venus' may be an attempt to capture the power of the lion.
The sculpture is 29.6 cm (11.7 inches) in height, 5.6 cm wide and 5.9 cm thick. It was carved out of mammoth ivory using a flint stone knife.
Originally, the figure was classified as male by Professor Hahn. From examination of some additional parts of the sculpture found later, Professor Schmidt then determined that the figure was female (a lioness) and called it Lowenfrau (lionlady). Both interpretations lack scientific evidence however, there is no mane (indicating a male) on sculpture. Recently it is more often called a lion headed figurine, rather than the probably-incorrect title, lion man.
The sculpture can be seen in the Ulmer Museum in Ulm, Germany.

d. Woman holding bison horn (Venus of Laussel)
The Venus of Laussel is a 1.5 foot high painted limestone of a nude female figure, painted with red ochre. It is approximately 25,000 years old. It if found in the Dordogne Valley in France.The figure holds a bison horn in one hand, which has 13 notches. According to some researchers, this may symbolize the number of moons or the number of menstrual cycles in one year. She has her hand on her abdomen (or womb), with large breasts and vulva. There is a "Y" on her thigh and her faceless head is turned toward the horn.The figure was rediscovered in 1911 by J. G. Lalanne, a physician. It was found in a limestone rock shelter from Laussel, Dordogne, France. It is now in the Musée d'Aquitaine, in Bordeaux, France.

e. Two Bison
The sculpture of the two bison or the bison bull and the cow is found at Le Tuc d'Audoubert, Ariege. The sculptures are 63 and 61 cm long respectively from left to right. They probably cracked shortly after being made, as the clay dried. Each bison is approximately two feet long. (15,000 – 10, 000 BC)

f. Altamira cave paintings
Paintings of bison on a cave in Spain called Altamira. It was painted about 14,000 years ago (around 12000-11000 b.c.). 13,000 years ago a rock-slide closed the entrance and until 1879 no one ever went in there again. A hole opened up in the ground and a little girl ventured down like Alice in Wonderland. She ran to get her father, an amateur archaeologist. When he told the world what his daughter had discovered, no one would believe him. No prehistoric paintings like those had ever been seen. And they looked suspiciously modern. After a long debate the experts finally withdrew their objections and declared the paintings genuine. After that, people began to visit the Altamira cave in greater and greater numbers until the authorities decided to close it because the paintings showed damage from the moisture and heat that rose from the visitors. Each bison is approximately five feet long.

h. Spotted horses and negative hand imprints (22,000 BC)
This wall painting is discovered in the cave at Pech-Merle, Lot, France. It is painted with natural pigments. Some people believe the horse was created because the shape of the stone already resembled a horse. The handprints might have been signatures. It is approximately 11 feet 2 inches.

i. The hall of the bulls
The Great Hall of the Bulls covers about 20 meters and it is composed of three groups of animals: horses, bulls and stags.
The Great Hall of the Bulls cave painting begins with a unicorn-like figure who seems to be chasing a herd of horses. This is linked with a large, partially drawn bull towards the back of the hall. On the opposite side, a similar illustration made up of three large wild oxen (now extinct) balances this composition. The meeting point of these two groupings is a group of small stags painted in ochre.
The few symbols are limited to isolated or grouped dots, often black, and to variously colored dashes. The color black dominates the figurative works: only the group of stags, three bovines and four horses, of which three are incomplete, are colored red.
The Great Hall of the Bulls is located in Lascaux, France. It is dated back to 15000 to 13000 b.c.
The largest bull is approximately 11 feet 6 inches

j. Rhinoceros, Wounded Man and Disemboweled Bison (The Shaft of the Dead Man/Well Scene)
Well Scene is about the confrontation between a man and a bison while a rhinoceros flees on the left. Nearby is a bird figure on a stick, whose head interestingly resembles that of the man. This painting is found in a cave in Lascaux, Dordogne, France. It is dated back to 15000 to 13000 BC. The bison is approximately 3 feet 8 inches. It is described as the world’s oldest painting.

k. Stonehenge
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire. Archaeologists had believed that the iconic stone monument was erected around 2500 BC. Stonehenge was produced by a culture with no written language. There is little or no direct evidence for the construction techniques used by the Stonehenge builders.

Paleolithic Art


apollo 11 cave

human with feline head

woman holding bison horn

two bison

altamira cave paintings

running of the bulls


Friday, January 23, 2009

mail frm lecturer Chong Sern (language n comunication skill)

Hello there,

Thank you so much, and I wish you & your family a great year ahead!




Thursday, January 22, 2009


Stepped Pyramid

The Pyramid of Djoser (Zoser), or step pyramid (kbhw-ntrw in Egyptian) is an archeological remain in the Saqqara necropolis, Egypt, northwest of the city of Memphis. It was built for the burial of Pharaoh Djoser by his vizier Imhotep, during the 27th century BC. It is the central feature of a vast mortuary complex in an enormous courtyard surrounded by ceremonial structures a
nd decoration.

This first Egyptian pyramid consisted of six mastabas (of decreasing size) built atop one another in what were clearly revisions and developments of the original plan. The pyramid originally stood 62 meters tall, and having a base of 109 x 125 m and was clad in polished white limestone.[1] The step pyramid (or proto-pyramid) is considered to be the earliest large-scale stone construction, although the nearby enclosure known as Gisr el-mudir would seem to predate the complex.


The Great Pyramid of Khufu, flanked by those of his sons, Khafre and Menkaure, Giza, Egypt, …[Credits : Kenneth Garrett—National Geographic/Getty Images]

Menkaure (king) and Khamerernebty (queen)

Ancient Egyptian sculptors were very busy creating sculptures of wealthy kings and their families. Sculptors created images of the dead to guarantee the permanence of the person’s identity by providing substitute homes for the ka in case the mummy didn’t survive the test of time. The ka is the life-force of a human, kind of like their soul. Upon death, the Egyptians believed the ka lived on in a person’s body. For the ka to live on, the dead body had to remain as intact as possible. To insure that it did, the Egyptians developed the technique of mummification.

One of the best examples of Egyptian sculpture of this kind is the joined portrait statues of Menkaure and Khamerernebty, a king and his queen. The sculpture is 4 feet 6.5 inches high, making it nearly life size. It stood by Menkaure’s pyramid, the smallest of the Great Pyramids. It is made a slate, a very hard stone common to Egypt.

In true godlike fashion, Menkaure and Khamerernebty are shown with perfect bodies and faces. The Egyptians considered ideal proportions appropriate for representing their royalty and did not all concern themselves with what the kings and queens looked like in real life. King Menkaure could have been wrinkly and chubby when he died but his status as a king guaranteed that he would be remembered as a youthful and well toned man—the way he would want to be for eternity in the afterlife.

You might also notice that Menkaure and his wife are standing very stiffly. Their arms are pressed right up against their sides, their legs are very close together and looking straight forward with perfect posture. The sculptor did this on purpose: to make sure the sculpture lasted for eternity. By making the figures very compact and solid without any arms or legs projecting out, the sculpture has very few breakable parts. The king’s headdress and the queen’s long hair also act to support the neck which is one of the most fragile parts of sculpture. Because of the way it was made, this sculpture has lasted for nearly 5000 years and with it the image and memory of Menkaure and Khamerernebty.

Although Menkaure and Khamerernebty were husband and wife, you may never know it by the way they are depicted. At least not by our standards. But Khamerernebty’s position, with her arm around her husband’s waist and her hand resting on his left arm, was the typical gesture of marriage in Ancient Egypt. During the time it was made, anyone looking at this statue would immediately know they are married and will be for the rest of time.

The art of the ANCIENT NEAR EAST , (mesopotamia)


The Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art covers both a lengthy chronological span and a vast geographical area. The collection of more than seven thousand works of art ranges in date from 8000 B.C. (the Neolithic period) to the Arab conquest and rise of Islam beginning in A.D. 651. The works come from ancient Mesopotamia, Iran, Syria, Anatolia, and other lands in the region that extends from the Black and Caspian Seas in the north to the southwestern Arabian peninsula, and from western Turkey on the Mediterranean Sea to the Indus River Valley in modern-day Pakistan and India. Societies throughout the ancient Near East maintained commercial and cultural contacts across great distances, although the routes, trade goods, and artistic styles and motifs that were exchanged varied in different periods.

Strengths of the department's collection, in formation for more than a century, include Sumerian sculptures; Anatolian ivories; Iranian bronzes; metalwork from Bronze Age Bactria in modern-day Afghanistan and Turkmenistan; and magnificent silver and gold vessels from the Achaemenid, Parthian, and Sasanian eras in Iran. These objects are joined by an extraordinary group of Assyrian stone reliefs depicting scenes of warfare and ritual and by enormous guardian figures, all from the Northwest Palace of Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 B.C.) at Nimrud, as well as by fine ivory carvings, many of which originally served as furniture ornaments at that site. There is also a large collection of stamp and cylinder seals representative of the various cultures of the ancient Near East.

Highlights from the department are presented online in roughly chronological order.

HEad of Akkadian
Head of an Akkadian ruler,
from Nineveh, Iraq. 2300-2200 B.C.

Bronze, Iraq Museum, BaghdadThis bronze head from Nineveh, dating from about 2300 bc, represents an Akkadian king, possibly Naram-Sin. It stands about 30 cm (12 in) high and originally had precious gems embedded in the eye sockets. The stylized hair and beard are characteristic of Mesopotamian art.
VIctory STELE of Naram Sin
Victory Stele of Naram-Sin by Schumata.
Image: a victory stele of Naram-Sin, the great grandson of Sargon, named after the Moon -- Sin. Erected after 2250 BC. The two gods shown at the top as stars are the Moon and Jupiter. Jupiter is shown on his mountain.

"Originally this stele was erected in the town of Sippar, centre of the cult of the Sun god, to the north of Babylon. lt was taken as booty to Susa by an Elamite king in the 12th century BC. lt illustrates the victory over the mountain people of western lran by Naram-Sin, 4th king of the Semite dynasty of Akkad, who claimed to be the universal monarch and was deified during his lifetime. He had himself depicted climbing the mountain at the head of his troops. His helmet bears the horns emblematic of divine power. Although it is worn, his face is expressive of the ideal human conqueror, a convention imposed on artists by the monarchy. The king tramples on the bodies of his enemies at the foot of a peak; above it the solar disk figures several times, and the king pays homage to it for his victory." - Louvre
Human-headed winged lion (lamassu),
883–859 B.C.; Neo-Assyrian period, reign of Ashurnasirpal II
Excavated at Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), northern Mesopotamia
Alabaster (gypsum); H. 10 ft. 3 1/2 in. (313.7 cm)
Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1932 (32.143.2)

From the ninth to the seventh century B.C., the kings of Assyria ruled over a vast empire centered in northern Iraq. The first great Assyrian king was Ashurnasirpal II (r. 883–859 B.C.), who undertook a vast building program at Nimrud, ancient Kalhu. Until it became the capital city under Ashurnasirpal, Nimrud had been no more than a provincial town.

The new capital occupied an area of about 900 acres, around which Ashurnasirpal constructed a mud-brick wall 120 feet thick, 42 feet high, and 5 miles long. In the southwest corner of this enclosure was the acropolis, where the temples, palaces, and administrative offices of the empire were located. In 879 B.C. Ashurnasirpal held a festival for 69,574 people to celebrate the construction of the new capital, and the event was documented by an inscription that read: "the happy people of all the lands together with the people of Kalhu—for ten days I feasted, wined, bathed, and honored them and sent them back to their home in peace and joy."

Ashurnasirpal's palace is described in the so-called Standard Inscription that ran across the surface of most of the reliefs: "I built thereon [a palace with] halls of cedar, cypress, juniper, boxwood, teak, terebinth, and tamarisk[?] as my royal dwelling and for the enduring leisure life of my lordship." The inscription continues: "Beasts of the mountains and the seas, which I had fashioned out of white limestone and alabaster, I had set up in its gates. I made it [the palace] fittingly imposing." Such limestone beasts are the human-headed, winged bull and lion pictured here. The horned cap attests to their divinity, and the belt signifies their power. The sculptor gave these guardian figures five legs so that they appear to be standing firmly when viewed from the front but striding forward when seen from the side. These lamassi protected and supported important doorways in Assyrian palaces.
Ishtar Gate

Babylon and the Ishtar Gate

The Ishtar Gate of Babylon was built during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II (604- 562 BC). The foundations of the gate were discovered between 1899 and 1914, including numerous glazed bricks and unglazed figures. The entire Ishtar Gate was reconstructed to a height of 47 feet and now resides at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

The Ishtar Gate is one of the most dramatic finds from ancient Babylonia. Covered with dragons and bulls, Nebuchadnezzar dedicated the huge, ceremonial gate to the goddess Ishtar. It was the main entrance to the inner streets and temples of Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar II was known for awesome building projects such as the restored temple of Marduk and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Head of a king, probably Shapur II,
4th century ; Sa sanian period
Gilded silver; H. 15 3/4 in. (40 cm)
Fletcher Fund, 1965 (65.126)

The Sasanian dynasty of Iran ruled an area from the Euphrates River to Bactria from the third century A.D. until the Islamic conquest in the seventh century, controlling for much of that time the Silk Road from Byzantium to China.

Dating from the fourth century, this royal head, hammered from a single sheet of silver, with chased and repoussé details, has parallels in imperial portraits made in the Roman West. The king wears simple ovoid earrings and a beaded necklace of Sasanian fashion. His powerful stare and characteristic arched nose seem to suggest that the artist was attempting to convey a sense of majesty rather than an individual likeness. The identity of the subject of such representations, in relief or in the round, can often be determined by comparison of facial features and details of the crown with those of kings portrayed on Sasanian coins of the period. In this case, however, the crescent that decorates the crenellated crown and the striated orb that rises above it have no exact parallel. It does appear, however, on crowns worn by Kushano-Sasanian rulers. No crescent is seen on the official crowns of Shapur II, but a rock relief at Taq-i Bustan depicts Shapur III (r. 383–88) in a similar fashon.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Birth of Art-Paleolithic Art

Aus tr alopith ecine cav e site, c. 2.5-3.0 MYA.
Comment: Object first reported by Raymond Dart (see citation below), and recently microscopically examined by Robert Bednarik (see citation below). Reddish-brown jasperite, with quartz veins, the weathering of which contributed to the stone's features. All features natural. Geologic history indicates it was probably pick ed out of a slow-flowing stream or flood channel and carried for a considerable distance into the cave, which has Australopithecus africanus and other remains. Its initial provenance c annot be securely determined. Dart suggests it is from a source 32 km away; others suggest somewhat closer sources. With its red color, which would have been highly distinctive in its geologic setting, quartz inclusions and anthropomorphic features, Bednarik observes, "I have never seen a natural stone object with such remarkable visual properties."

Dart and others have noted that the piece has three faces depending upon orientation. Face 1 shown; for Face 2 turn upside-down; obverse has Face 3. Dart interprets Face 2 as Australopithecine -like; Face 3 as possibly a toothless oldster. Bednarik suggest that Face 3 "presents a face resembling the reconstruction of an australopithecine face, wearing a friendly if somewhat mischievous grin". Face 1 would be too much like a current sapiens sapiens face. In either case, all agree that the individual who carried to the site had an 'iconographic' sense. This is the earliest evidence for aesthetic sense in the hominid line. Bednarik concludes based on this object that "it is, in my view, essential to expect australopithecine behavior to be significantly more complex, in a cultural and cognitive sense, than that of any extant non-human primate."

a) photo Patrick Nagel. Dart, R. (1974) . The waterworn Australopithecine pebble of many faces from Makapansgat. South African Journal of Science 70 (June):167-169, fig. 1. For a color photo see Bahn, P. and Vertut, J. (1997). Journey through the Ice Age. Berkeley: University of California Press. Figure 2.1. For a thorough microscopic and geological analysis see Bednarik, R. G. (1998). The 'Australopithecine' cobble from Makapansgat, South Africa. South African Archaeological Bulletin 53:4-8.

Women holding bison horn

The Venus of Laussel, an 18-inch high bas-relief sculpture of a woman holding a bison horn. It was found on a sheltered wall of limestone in the Dor dogne Valley in France and is more than 21,000 years old. Prehis toric religion specialists believe that the curved bison horn she is holding
symbolizes both the crescent moon and the Universal Vulva, the source of all life. The horn is incised with thirteen marks, corresponding to the 13 lunar months in a year.
Two Bison
Bison bull and cow, modelled in clay in the rotunda of the Le Tuc d’Audoubert, Ariège, France

The sculptures are 63 and 61 cm long respectively from left to right. They probably cracked shortly after being made, as the clay dried. Although there are stalactites and stalgmites elsewhere in this cave system, there is no water dripping from the ceiling to destroy these sculptures. They are located at the very furthest point of a 900 metre cave, in a chamber reached only after an often uncomfortable and difficult journey.
Spotted horse And Negative hand in printed

Signs, consisting of checks, dots, squares, or other arrangements of lines often accompany the pictures of animals. Representations of human hands also are common.
1-3: Spotted horses and negative hand imprints, wall painting in the cave at Pech-Merle, Lot, France, ca. 22,000 BCE. Approx. 11’ 2” long.

Infrared photography has revealed that the first horse, drawn in outline, was filled in over a period of time with sets of red and black spots applied both by blowing and by patting on the paint. Next, spots and handprints were placed around the horse. The smaller horse was drawn later. Alexander Marshack notes, "The sequence suggests a long-term, periodic, and variable ritual use of the wall and the horse."
the Hall of bulls
Panoramic view of a cave wall
Lascaux, France, early period, 15,000-13,500 B.C.
Photograph courtesy of Musée de Périgord, Periguex,France

As many as 13 different styles are identifiable in the overlapping naturalistic figures painted on the walls of this cavern, each from a different time period. The largest bull, from the Great Hall of Bulls, measures 18 feet in length. Consider the remarkable abilities and observational capacities of these early artists: these paintings, among the earliest known, were made by the flickering light of oil-bearing stone lamps, almost certainly without the animals being present.
Wounded man and disemboweled bison
rhinoceros.JPG (278924 bytes)
Rhinoceros, wounded man and disemboweled bison
(Lascaux, France)

c. 15,000-13,000 BC

Sometimes called the Well Scene owing to its location in a deeper, less accessible area in the caves of Lascaux, France.

This is a good image to use early in the semester to encourage class participation concerning the various ways historians obtain information. As this is a prehistoric image, historians have to interact with anthropologists as well as art historians to arrive at reasonable interpretations of its meaning. We must also stress that with any prehistoric art any such interpretations are educated speculation and could be totally incorrect.

General background: The artists were hunter-gatherers who, using flickering torchlight, painted such images in relatively inaccessible areas of certain caves. Because of their location most scholars believe that the paintings were meant to serve magical/religious purposes. It should also be noted that images of humans were rare and this is one of the first depictions of one of our early ancestors.



Paleolithic Art
, art produced from about 32,000 to 11,000 years ago, during the Stone Age. It falls into two main categories: portable pieces, such as small figurines or decorated objects, and cave art. The portable art was carved out of bone, antler, or stone, or modeled in clay. It has been found in much of Europe, in Northern Africa, and in Siberia. Cave art, discovered primarily in northern Spain and southern France, takes the form of paintings, drawings, and engravings on cave walls. A possible third category comprises pictures and symbols engraved on rock surfaces in the open air, but very little of this art has survived.

Paleolithic art was first discovered in the 1860s, when French paleontologist Edouard Lartet found portable decorated objects in caves and rock shelters in southwestern France. The objects were recognized as ancient by their proximity to Stone Age tools and the bones of Ice Age animals. The discoveries triggered a craze for digging in caves in search of objects, but little attention was paid to the drawings on the walls.

A local landowner’s discovery in 1880 of Paleolithic paintings in the Spanish cave of Altamira was greeted at first with skepticism by archaeologists. In 1895 walls covered with engravings were discovered in the cave of La Mouthe, in the Dordogne region of southwestern France. Rubble had previously blocked the entrance to this cave, and Paleolithic deposits in the rubble indicated that the cave paintings were of considerable age. In 1901 engravings were found in the cave of Les Combarelles and paintings in nearby Font de Gaume, in the same region of France as La Mouthe. In 1902 archaeologists publicly recognized the existence of cave art. Thereafter, numerous new sites were revealed, and discoveries continue, especially in France and Spain. In 1994 a Frenchman named Jean-Marie Chauvet discovered a cave in the Ardèche Valley of southeastern France. The Chauvet cave contains paintings of a wide variety of animals that date back 32,000 years, making them the oldest cave paintings yet discovered.

Until recently, very little Paleolithic art had been found outside of caves. But since 1981, archaeologists have discovered a number of outdoor sites in Spain, Portugal, Australia, and South Africa. In 1994, along the River Côa in northeastern Portugal, explorers came across rocks engraved with human figures, horses, ibex, and wild cattle. The artists apparently hammered dotted outlines of the animals and then connected the dots with scored lines. Archaeologists estimate that these paintings are about 20,000 years old. Scientists now believe that such art may have been quite common, although little of it has survived erosion by wind and rain.

Cave Painting, Lascaux
This portion of a cave painting in what is now Lascaux, France, was done by Paleolithic artists about 13,000 bc. The leaping cow and group of small horses were painted with red and yellow ochre that was either blown through reeds onto the wall or mixed with animal fat and applied with reeds or thistles. It is believed that prehistoric hunters painted these in order to gain magical powers that would ensure a successful hunt.

Scholars first thought cave art was purely decorative, with no complex meanings. As they made further discoveries, meaningful patterns began to emerge, raising certain questions. Why did artists depict a limited range of species? Why do so many paintings, drawings, and engravings appear in inaccessible places within caves? Why were some caves decorated but apparently not inhabited? Mysterious symbols, figures that are purposely incomplete or ambiguous, and certain associations of figures all seem to indicate that there is some underlying meaning to this art. Although most of these questions remain unanswered, scholars have explored a number of theories.

According to a theory popular in the early 20th century, Stone Age people drew pictures of animals for the purpose of affecting real animals in some way. Those who supported this theory saw ritual and magic in every aspect of Paleolithic art. They concluded, for example, that ritual destruction was the reason for the large number of broken decorated objects found on cave floors, and that superimposing darts or other weapons on the images of some animals may have been intended to ensure successful hunting. However, ritual breakage is still a debatable theory, and the arguments for ritual painting of weapons are not conclusive either. Very few Paleolithic animal figures have weapons drawn on them, weapons also appear on some human figures, and many caves have no images of this type at all. Other problems with the theory include the absence of any clear hunting scenes and the fact that animal bones found in many decorated caves are not of the same species as those depicted on the walls.

Another popular theory proposes that cave art served as fertility magic. According to this theory, humans drew pictures of animals that they hoped would reproduce and provide food in the future. Yet artists very seldom indicated the gender of the animals shown, and genitalia are rarely emphasized in the drawings. Copulation appears in only one or two questionable examples. Some scholars are exploring a variation on this theory: that cave art was created in a ritual of renewal and that redrawing a picture each year, sometimes directly on top of an old drawing, was intended to ensure the return of that species each spring.

Two French scholars, Annette Laming-Emperaire and André Leroi-Gourhan, put forth a theory in the late 1950s that cave art had been created in carefully composed configurations within each cave. They saw the animal pictures not as portraits of animals, but as symbols. Because images of horses and bison, the most common by far, were typically concentrated in central panels, they concluded that these two dominant images represented a basic duality, which they understood to be male and female.

Some researchers are currently attempting to develop criteria for identifying the work of individual artists, who may have been women or men. Other researchers have found that the most richly decorated panels appear in caves with especially good acoustics, suggesting that sound played an important part in any ceremonies that might have accompanied the making of cave art.

Many other theories are under investigation, but no single explanation is likely to apply to all Paleolithic art, since it comprises artwork created over a period of at least 20,000 years and from widely varying parts of the world.

Paleolithic artists made objects from a variety of materials. They made simple forms by modifying natural objects—making holes in teeth, shells, and bones, or carving them to form beads or pendants. Beads, bracelets, and armlets were also made out of ivory. Engraved drawings appear on small flat stones, flat bones, the shafts of bones, and antlers. The vast majority of Paleolithic statuettes are made of ivory or soft stone, but a few clay figurines of humans and animals have survived.

Art on cave walls was created using an astonishing variety of techniques. Some images incorporate the natural contours of the rock or of mineral formations known as stalagmites to represent or accentuate parts of animal figures. Other marks come from fingers pressed into a soft layer of clay that covered the rock. In some caves, finger lines trace recognizable figures in clay. Work in clay, found only in sites in the Pyrenees Mountains of southwestern Europe, also includes engravings in cave floors and low-relief figures modeled in artificial clay mounds. Cave artists modeled bison in high relief in the French cave of Le Tuc d’Audoubert, while at the cave of Montespan, also in France, a three-dimensional bear sculpture was formed out of about 700 kg (about 1500 lb) of clay.

Wall sculpture, in both low and high relief, has only been discovered in the central regions of France, where the limestone could be shaped. Traces of red pigment remain on almost all wall sculptures, evidence that, like most portable art, they were once painted.

The red pigment used to paint on cave walls consists of iron oxide, found in clays and ores, while the black pigment is manganese or charcoal. These materials were usually available locally. Analysis of these pigments has revealed that artists used recipes to prepare paint, combining pigments with talc or feldspar to increase their bulk and adding animal and plant oils to bind the materials.

Venus of Willendorf
This so-called Venus figurine from the area of Willendorf, Austria, is one of the earliest known examples of sculpture, dating from about 23,000 bc. The figure, which is carved out of limestone, is only 11.25 cm (4.5 in) high, and was probably designed to be held in the hand. It is believed the Venus may be a fertility symbol, which would explain the exaggerated female anatomy.