Prehistoric Art

The hardest part of a being a historian is finding your interest travelling further and further back in history to discover your primary sources become scarcer and the history books become drier. However, one of the most enduring aspects of history can always been seen all over the walls in the form of art and sculpture, all through every countries history, and it envelopes the world in interconnecting strands of historical story-telling and passion. Prehistoric art is not classified as a movement like the Renaissance or Impressionism, but it still gives an image of an era that has no voice from the contemporary people. The artworks range from cave paintings to crude figurines found buried in archaeological dig from China to South America. Prehistory is considered by most historians to be between 3million and 5,300 years ago.

It is a shame prehistoric art is not studied in such depth by art historians or historians as an element of significance in human history. But the mere fact it predates printing, writing and traditional paint should make people see it as part of evolutionary progress and a time portal to the lives who lived the cave paintings depicted. Perhaps cave painting is maligned because of the crudeness and there are no written recordings of the meaning or thought behind the process. On the other hand, anthropologists have taken these pieces as a chance to study the human kind with a distance that nobody with a living memory can contest. As with the medieval era and parchment, only the hardiest of materials from the prehistoric era have stood the test of time to be analysed and debated. The prehistoric art ranges from Palaeolithic through to the Iron Age that expanded across the growth of humanity towards history, therefore the art is given the more generic name of pictographs and were thought to be the backdrops of ceremonies. Not all the art is understood and can be interpreted with any sort of certainty. Much of the cave art also consists of holes in the rock which have baffled all ‘oloigts’ that come across it.

The art that came from ‘modern man’ is analysed to come from the Pleistocene era from 1.6m to 10000 BCE towards the Holocene era that created evidence of human civilisation. Naturally history cannot be pigeon holed into specific eras therefore all dates and ranges for this post is purely speculative. Anything created during these eras are attributed to the use of stone is create tools and markings as they were the instruments of progress. This was not limited to stone but also included bone, ivory and antlers from ancient creatures that existed alongside the early homo sapiens. The first cave art appeared around 39000BCE, that historians are aware of, in the area now known as Spain, Italy and France. They are monochrome using charcoal and natural ochre, and depict figures of people, elephants, tigers and all sorts of predator prey situation. Hunter gatherer scenes also appear in some caves. From close inspection it is clear the images were crudely configured using plant bristles, fingers and sticks. The art has been used to assess the types of weaponry used and can track the use from sticks and rocks to sharpened arrow and spear heads. This era also produced early examples of architecture in huts and shelters that housed the communities it served. Prehistoric settlements have also unearthed evidence of ivory jewellery and anthropologists assess the growing use of fine arts with the development of motor skills and hand eye co-ordination that allowed smaller movements to create objects. Art also spread from caves to practical objects in use in society for example prehistoric pottery from Croatia with drawings, paintings and relief carvings into the moulds. Prehistoric art changed rapidly once the Mesolithic era began in 10000BCE as communities along around globe that had seasons began to shift from hunter gatherer to agricultural beings. More discoveries from this era are prevalent and are used to assess what life was like during these periods. Alongside the art that showed hunters and farmers the earth itself is revealing the history within its soil. The rise of forestry across western Europe began to affect the cave paintings as the hunting strategies changed and more human figures appear on the walls instead of just animals. Art also starts to appear on rocks because the weather is becoming warmer globally. Considering cave painting is not considered a true expertise other than an extra interest in specialists on the era it shows to true spread of the humans and their changes. It occurred over millions of years but also seemly rapidly. Art has always been the forefront in assessing what a world looked like and prehistoric art should be considered its own movement. The art may have been functional in its time but it showed a need for decoration and a need for people to attempt reinterpretation as to their meanings.

For further information please visit: http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/prehistoric-art.htm


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