• Shalini Guha

Prehistoric Art – Paleolithic Era: Brief History of Art and Culture

Updated: Jun 30, 2020

What shaped your Art? Beginning the journey with you to know the Art that brought us to the present.

Have you ever thought what the Art you view today was like for our ancestors?

Reading about Art and trying to understand it brought me in interests with the History that I did not know about. Just a few cultural movements and we think that we actually know everything. Nobody actually knows what happened; it’s all a theory, all our assumptions. It is fascinating to me, is it for you too? Let’s go back to the beginning we know of.....

Prehistoric Art – Paleolithic Era

Prehistoric Art (20,000 BC to 8000 BC) is a term for artwork produced in preliterate and prehistoric cultures beginning somewhere in the very late geological history. Specifying the time of a Historic Artwork is not an exact science, and results are often dependent on tests performed on the layer of earth and debris in which the artifact was lying or - in the case of rock engraving - an analysis of the content and style of the marking.

Prehistoric Art is known to exist in three phases and is referred as Paleolithic Era, Mesolithic Era and Neolithic Era.

1. Paleolithic Era is classified into Lower (2.5 million years-100,000 years ago), Middle (300,000-30,000) and Upper Paleolithic (40,000 to 10,000). When you research about this era, you will come across the fact that there isn’t much evidence found for the artistic descriptions of the Lower and Middle Paleolithic era.

According to archaeologists, the following basic types of Prehistoric Art are known to exist:-

· Petroglyph, an image created by carving, engraving, or other descriptions of the technique to refer to such images.

· Pictographs are pictorial symbols for a word or phrase, known to be the earliest form of writing.

· Parietal Art , cave painting and cave petroglyphs.

· Prehistoric Sculpture, a form of portable or mobiliary art that is art on movable rocks and not on a fixed wall.

· Megalithic Art is the use of large stones as an artistic medium and is a generally used term for art carved onto megaliths in prehistoric Europe. It is still used by some modern artists and sculptors.

It is found that artifacts existed by 40,000 years ago in the Upper Paleolithic era. First discovery of rock paintings in the world was made in India (1867-68) by an Archaeologist, A.C.L Carlleyle, twelve years before the discovery of Altamira in Spain (site of the observed oldest rock paintings in the world). The oldest known representational imagery comes from the Aurignacian culture of the Upper Paleolithic period or Stone Age.

Although on September of 2018, scientists reported the discovery of the earliest known drawing by human hands in Blombos Cave South Africa, estimated to be 73,000 years old. Engraved with grid or cross-hatch patterned stones dated back to 70,000 years were found, suggesting that early Homo sapiens were capable of abstraction and production of the modern abstract art or symbolic art. Several archaeologists are still hesitant to accept the Blombos caves as the first example of actual art. There are other claims of Middle Palaeolithic sculpture, dubbed the Venus of Tan-Tan” (Morocco) and the Venus of Berekhat Ram” (Golan Heights, 1981), such crude representations of humanoid shapes that some experts doubt whether they are works of art at all.

A glimpse of our own country India maybe?

The earliest Indian paintings were the rock paintings of prehistoric times (discovered 1867-68), the petroglyphs as found in places like the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, some of them are dated to circa 8,000 BC. Research suggests that, according to the remnants found, the Indus Valley Civilization had produced stamp seals and sculptures and may have been literate but after its collapse there are relatively few artistic remains until the literate period. According to archaeologists and scientists, there is a whole lost civilization that we are not aware of which can change the description of the earliest times and materials we think we have observed so far.

After reading through a lot of articles and theories, if you ask me, the conclusion is that the beginning of Artistic objects or any sought of art form is still a matter of debate. The world is too big and art has been a representation of time and expression of cultures through it. A lot to discover and so much that we have not yet reached.

Today we end with a glimpse of Paleolithic and the next time let’s take a peek of Mesolithic Era. Until then, why don’t you satisfy your curiosity to know more about the Paleolithic era of Prehistoric Art?

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