Caveman Art, the prehistoric stuff

Caveman Art, the prehistoric stuff

No doubt you would have studied some of the history of cave man art when at school, I certainly did. Most of it we don’t remember, but some of the images still stick in my mind, especially the bison which I chose as my caveman art when it came time to do our own version in art class.


So what do we know about cave art? Well the earliest known European cave paintings date back to around 32,000 years ago. The purpose of these Palaeolithic cave paintings is not known but there are many theories by scientists, philosophers and art historians and of course I have my own theories but they’re probably not correct, after all reality is, they wouldn’t have had time to be dreamy and philosophical about life, painting things just because they could, but who knows! The evidence suggests that they were not merely decorations of living areas like we do today, this is taken from the fact that the caves in which they have been found do not have signs of ongoing habitation along with usually being in areas of caves that are not easily accessible as a rule. Some theories hold that they may have been a way of communicating with others or recording events, while other theories suggest they are religious or ceremonial. I however al still liking the theory of dreamy little cave people climbing away to their special little place where no one else went and doodling to their hearts content when they were meant to be out catching supper or attending to firewood etc.

Anyway, nearly 350 caves have now been discovered in France and Spain alone, that contain art from prehistoric times. The age of the paintings in many sites has always been a contentious issue, since methods like radiocarbon dating can be easily misled by contaminated samples of older or newer material, with the caves and rocky overhangs usually littered with debris from many time periods. Recent advances make it possible to date the paintings by sampling the pigment itself, I expect this may be invasive of the delicate drawings in that it would have to remove some of it to test, I’m sure some expert could correct me on that however!. The choice of subject matter can also indicate the artwork date, like for instance in the reindeer at the Spanish cave of ‘Cueva de las Monedas,’ which suggests the art was created sometime in the last Ice Age.

The oldest known cave is that of Chauvet, the paintings of which may be around 32,000 years old according to radiocarbon dating. Some researchers believe the drawings are too advanced for this era and question this age. Regardless they continue to fascinate us as the earliest form of art.

The most common themes in cave paintings are large wild animals, such as bison, horse and deer, along with tracings of human hands and some abstract patterns that are called finger flutings. Drawings of humans were rare and are usually schematic rather than the more naturalistic animal subjects. Apparently it was considered that realistically painting the human form was forbidden by a powerful religious taboo. Many of the paintings were drawn with red and yellow ochre, hematite, manganese oxide and charcoal, all bases of paint pigment to this very day, I’m sure you artists would recognise the names.

Have a look at these ‘Google image’ links for some images of well known cave paintings

Posted: Friday 18 June 2010


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