Art of the Paleolithic
The Paleolithic Period, which is Greek for “Old Stone Age”, is the earliest period in human history. Today, the Paleolithic is divided into three categories, the first being the Lower Paleolithic (between 2.5 million – 200,000 BCE). During this time, our ancestors, such as Homo erectus and Homo ergaster, lived in nomadic groups and began making the first stone tools. The second Paleolithic category is the Middle Paleolithic (200,000 – 45,000 BCE), marked by the first Homo sapiens sapiens beginning to develop modern behaviors: more sophisticated tools, hunting, and the start of symbolic/ritualistic behavior. By the Upper Paleolithic (ending approximately 10,000 ...view middle of the document...
In some of the caves the prints appear to be made by children, while in other caves there seems to be a mixture of adult sized and children sized prints. Simple line drawings of animals such as mammoths, deer, bison, and aurochs (ancestors of the modern bovine) appear to be floating in empty space on the walls of the caves.
In some caves, such as Chauvet, the animals are much more detailed, and shaded in such a way as to give them perspective and the illusion of movement. The Chauvet paintings are also unique in that they include images of animals not hunted for food such as Panthers and other large cats. The animals are arranged by species and gender, and are often located in distinct chambers of the cave, giving the impression the paintings may have served as a calendar for animal migration (Sayre, 2013, p. 3).
Depictions of people are rarer in the earlier cave paintings, and are often just stylized stick figures, with or without spears, next to more detailed drawings of animals. This may indicate that early humans viewed the animals of their world being more powerful and dominant than themselves. By the Upper Paleolithic era, depictions of humans, such as those found in Western Australia, were much more common and became more detailed, depicting not only hunting scenes but also what appeared to be both “men and women wearing extravagant headgear and elegant clothes” (Clottes, 2008, p. 308).
While there are some animals are rarely depicted in cave paintings, such as fish, there are items that have never been found in cave paintings. Plants have not been found in any paintings, nor are the sun or moon. There are also no specific indications of the animals standing on the ground, except when the contour of the cave wall gives the impression of ground.
Venus of Willendorf
In 1908, archeologist Joseph Szombathy discovered a small figure of a woman near Willendorf in Austria which, at the time, was the oldest figure found and it would become the most famous form of Paleolithic artwork. Living in nomadic bands, figures and talismans had to be small and easily carried. The limestone figure measured only about 4 1/2 inches high, and is between 25,000 – 30,000 years old. The body’s roundness is exaggerated, with the arms and lower legs only sketchily indicated. There are no facial features, and her head is covered by a spiral braid that looks similar to a cap of shells found on the skeleton of a young male at the Arene Candide in northwestern Italy (DK Encyclopedia, 2009, p. 474). There have been many hypotheses concerning the purpose of this Venus, as well as previous female figures. Some suggest it was a symbol of fertility, or the Mother Goddess, with its exaggerated belly, breasts, and pubic area. There is also evidence that it was colored with red ochre, possibly to symbolize menstrual blood, viewed as a life giving force. Others believe it was carried during the hunt as a symbol of good luck.
The Venus of Willendorf is not...