Paleolithic Cave Paintings Essay, Research Paper
Paleolithic art and cave paintings
Paleolithic Art, was produced from about 32,000 to 11,000 years ago, which is
during the Stone Age. It is characterized by two main categories: first of all, by
portable pieces, like small figurines or decorated objects, and second of all, by cave art.
The portable art was carved out of bone, antler, stone, or modeled in clay. It has
mostly been found in Europe, Northern Africa, and Siberia. Cave art however, was
discovered mostly in northern Spain and southern France, whaich takes the form of
paintings, drawings, and engravings on the walls. There have also been pictures and
symbols engraved on rock in the open air, but not much of it has survived.
Paleolithic art was discovered in the 1860s, when French paleontologist
Edouard Lartet found decorated objects in caves in southern France. The objects were
recognized as ancient by their similarity to Stone Age tools and the bones of the Ice
Age animals. These discoveries engaged a want for digging in caves to look for such
objects, but not much attention was given to the paintings on the walls.
The discovery in 1880 of Paleolithic paintings in the Spanish cave of Altamira
was first met with great skepticism. In 1895, engraving covered walls were discovered
in the cave of La Mouthe, in the Dordogne region of southwestern France. Debris had
originaly blocked the entrance to this cave, but Paleolithic deposits in the debris
indicated that the cave paintings were considerably old. In 1901, engravings were
found in the cave of Les Combarelles, such as paintings in nearby Font de Gaume, in
the same region of France as La Mouthe. In 1902 archaeologists admitted to the
existence of art in caves. From then on, many new sites were found, and discoveries
continue even today, most importantly in France and Spain. In 1994, a Frenchman by
the name of Jean-Marie Chauvet discovered a cave in the Ardeche Valley in
southeastern France. The Chauvet cave has many paintings of different animals that
date back 32,000 years, making them the oldest cave paintings ever discovered.
Until not long ago, not much Paleolithic art had been found on the outside of
caves. But since 1981, some archaeologists have discovered a few of outdoor sites in
Spain, Portugal, Australia, and South Africa. In 1994, along the River C a in the north
of Portugal, explorers have came across rocks engraved with human figures, horses,
and wild cattle. Archaeologists estimate that the paintings are somewhat 20,000 years
old. Scientists now think that this kind of art was pretty common, although little of it
survived erosion of wind and rain.
Paleolithic art usually is thought to be either figurative which means,
translating animals or humans, or nonfigurative, which is using signs and symbols.
Animals translated in Paleolithic art depend on the period and region. Cave art
mostly shows horses and bison, but mammoth or deer can be more important at other
sites. Fish and birds are sometimes found in cave paintings or engravings, but are
mostly used for portable art.
Almost all the animals in cave paintings are drawn using their profile. Many of
these images are either not finished or abstract. A few are even imaginary creatures,
like the unicorn translated in a cave in Lascaux, France. The number of animals
translated in cave paintings vary from a few to hundreds in caves like in Lascaux or
Les Trois Fr res. Due to the difficulty to demonstrate a relationship between
drawings, just a small number of scenes have be understood. Some paintings are even
layered one on top of another.
Human figures are not really typical in cave paintings but mostly in portable art.
Small female statuettes known as Venus figures, with exaggerated breasts, abdomen,
and hips, have been found principally in central Europe. They are sensed to represent
Signs and symbols are much more important in cave art than representations of
humans or animals. Markings differ from a dot or line to many linear marks, which are
grouped together. Sometimes these signs are completely hidden and closed off in a
cave, but other times they can appear next to figurative images. The less complicated
symbolics, such as handprints outlined in colored earth (done by blowing the paint
through a sort of straw) can be found in many caves.
Most people thought cave art was basicaly used for as decoration, which meant
basically nothing. But as discoveries became more numerous, patterns began to
appear, making us think of the real reasons. Why do we see only certain animals in the
cave paintings? Why is all the art in such hard to find places in the caves? Why were
the caves painted, but not lived in? Strange symbols and figures make us think that
there is some reason to this art. There are a few theories that might help to explain
For some people, Stone Age people painted pictures of animals to effect them
in some way or another. They think that Paleolithic art was spiritual in some way.
They thought, for example, that painting darts or spears on the images of animals
could help them during hunting. Though none of this can be proved. Very little animal
figures acctually have weapons drawn on them. Weapons are also drawn on some
human figures, and a lot of caves do not have any paintings of this type at all. Another
problem with the theory is that there are not any acctual hunting scenes in the caves.
Another theory is that cave art was used as fertility magic. To this theory,
humans painted pictures of animals that they hoped would reproduce. The gender of
the animals were not shown, and the genitals are not very emphasized in the drawings.
Reproduction is seen in only a couple of paintings. People think that the cave art was
made in a ritual of renewal and that redrawing a picture each year, sometimes directly
on top of an old drawing, was made for the animals to return each spring.
Annette Laming-Emperaire and Andr Leroi-Gourhan, came up with yet
another theory in the 1950s to explain why the cave art had been painted in certain
ways in each cave. They saw the animal as symbols instead of just paintings of animals.
Due to the fact that horses and bison were mostly concentrated in the central panels,
they thought that these two important images represented a basic duality, for example,
male and femal.
No one can acctually identify if the painters were male or female. Other
researchers have realized that the best decorated panels are found in caves with
especially good acoustics, estimating that sound played an important role in the
ceremonies that might have accompanied the art making in the caves.
Many other theories are being investigated, but no single explanation can be
applied to all Paleolithic art, due to the fact that the artwork was made over a period
of at least 20,000 years and from many different parts of the world.
Paleolithic artists made objects from many different materials. They made
simple forms by changing the forms of natural objects they made holes in teeth,
shells, and bones, or carved them to form beads or pendants. Beads, bracelets, and
armlets were also made out of ivory. Engraved drawings acctually appear on small flat
stones, flat bones, the shafts of bones, and antlers. The many of the Paleolithic
statuettes are made from ivory or from soft stone, but a few clay figurines of humans
and animals have also survived.
Art on cave walls was created in many different ways, using different
techniques. Some images use the natural shapes of the rocks or of mineral formations
such as stalagmites to to form or emphasize some parts of the animal figures. Other
marks come from fingers pressed into a soft layer of clay that covered the rock. In
some caves, finger lines acctually form figures in clay. Work in clay, found only in sites
in the Pyrenees Mountains of southwestern Europe, also includes engravings on cave
floors and low-relief figures modeled in man made clay mounds. Cave artists modeled
bison in high relief in the French cave of Le Tuc d’Audoubert, but at the cave of
Montespan, in France, a 3-D bear sculpture was formed out of about 700 kg of clay.
Wall sculpture, in both low and high relief, has been only found in central
France, where the limestone could be shaped. There have been some traces of red
pigment on almost all the wall sculptures, which means that, like most portable art,
they had been painted.
The red pigment used to paint on the cave walls is made of iron oxide, found in
clays and ores, on the other hand the black pigment is manganese or charcoal. These
materials were usually available only in the areas around the caves. It had been proven
by these pigments that the artists used recipes to prepare paint, combining pigments
with talc or feldspar to to make greater quantities and adding animal and plant oils to
bind the materials.
One of the easiest ways for paleolithic painters was apply the pigment with
their own fingers, but some researchers say that cave artists had acctually developed
special tools for painting. Some say that animal-hair brushes or crushed twigs could
have been used as tools. Chunks of pigment found on cave floors might have been
used as crayons, but were probably used as powder, since they do not mark the cave
rocks well. To make some of the dots, figures and the hand stencils, artists must have
sprayed paint (a substance of powdered pigment, water, and perhaps some form of oil
used as binder) directly from their mouths or through a straw. Artists also painted
figures on the ceilings of the caves. In some caves, the ceilings were too high to reach
without a ladder or some sort of support. At Lascaux, cave walls show holes where
supports might have been attached.
Hearths sometimes used to bring light into caves, but deep in caves artists
would needed more a portable source of light. Archaeologists have found only a few
dozen stone lamps, which means that torches might have been mosty used for light.
Debris of charcoal on cave walls shows that torches were burned inside the caves.
The size of cave paintings a very different. Some of the largest are over 2 m in
length, and drawings of bulls at Lascaux measure as long as 5.5 m. Small figures seem
to appear with larger ones in randomly order, with nothing that really holds them
together in single picture.Since the late 1940s scientists use a process called
radiocarbon dating method to find the dates of many archaeological finds with pretty
good accuracy; the process analyzes the carbon in an object. Since 1989, advances in
radiocarbon dating have helped scientists to find this information even from extremely
small amounts of pigment, so that the method can finally be used to find exactly the
age of the cave paintings. These tests have shown that some figures on the same walls
were made at different times, accumulating slowly over a long time.
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