Prehistory: the time during the development of human
culture before the existence of writing and written language.
Stone Age: prehistoric cultural stage characterized by the
creation and use of stone tools.
The Stone Age is divided into three different eras, depending
on the degree of sophistication and fashioning of stone tools:
Paleo = old (Greek)
Mesos = middle
Neo = new
Lithos = stone
The Stone Age
1. The Paleolithic Period is divided into Lower (the oldest),
Middle, and Upper (most recent).
Spans from 2,500,000 – 8000 BCE
(120,000 – Homo Sapiens)
(35,000 – First works of art)
Upper Paleolithic – 40,000 to 8,000 BCE
2. Neolithic (Europe)
Spans from 6,500 – 1200 BCE
Century = 100 years
Millenium = 1000 years
BCE = Before Common Era
CE = Common Era
c. = circa = means “about” for approximate date
3rd c. BCE
3rd . mill. BCE 2nd mill. BCE
2nd. c. BCE
1st c. BCE
1st m i l l e n n i u m B C E
mi l l e n n i u m C E
1st c. CE
2nd c. CE 3rd c. CE
The Paleolithic Period: ancient stage of human development
characterized by the use of chipped stone tools, starting
about 2.5 million years ago.
Art and representational images (depicting objects, figures,
or scenes as seen in reality) were created in the Upper
Paleolithic period beginning about 38,000 BCE in Australia,
Africa and Europe, with the emergence of our ancestors, the
homo sapiens sapiens.
Homo is a genus of primate, the only living species being Homo
sapiens, or humans. The genus Homo is characterized by an upright
posture, large brains, high intelligence, and hairlessness.
Homo Sapiens: are the species to which all modern human beings
belong. They appeared around 200,000 years ago.
Neanderthal: archaic humans of the Middle Paleolithic period, who
emerged between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago and were replaced
by early modern humans between 35,000 and 28,000 years ago. The
name Neanderthal derives from the Neander Valley near Düsseldorf,
Homo sapiens sapiens arrived about 300,000 years after the
Neanderthals and outlived them due to new cognitive abilities:
1. Improvements in recognizing and benefitting from variations in
the natural environment.
2. Social networking and alliance making skills (enabled
3. THINKING SYMBOLICALLY – were able to create
representational analogies between one person, animal, or object and
another – this marks the evolutionary origin of art.
Sculpture in the round – 3 dimensional sculpture you can
see from all angles
Relief sculpture – projects from a background
Lion-human from Hohlenstein-Stadel,
Germany. c. 30,000 BCE Mammoth ivory,
height 11 5/8”
Architecture applies the enclosure of space with some
aesthetic intent. In Upper Paleolithic period we see some
complex shelters being built.
Cave Painting: c. 40,000 BCE we see sophisticated cave painting
in Europe. The meaning behind these images and the impulse
that drove them is the source of great debate. We can only rely on
deductive reasoning to determine the meanings because this is
prehistoric art. What we do know is the impulse was not simply for
pleasure or beauty.
Altamira, Spain. c.
40,000 BCE Ochre on
Homo sapiens sapiens used three painting methods:
1. Drawing with fingers or blocks of ocher
2. Chewing charcoal or other pigment and spraying it over
hand, using it as a stencil
3. Dipping paintbrushes made of hair or moss
They also engraved onto walls using flint to carve out lines
and they modeled damp clay into relief sculptures. The
previous lion-man was carved from woolly mammoth
Wall painting with Horses,
Rhinoceroses, and Aurochs. Chauvet
Cave. Vallon-Pont-d’Arc, Ardeche
Gorge, France. c. 32,000-30,000 BCE.
Paint on limestone.
What is the meaning of these
carefully rendered, realistic
paintings? They were not animals
that are hunted for food. There are
many hypotheses for what these
cave paintings mean. One is David
theory. The shaman goes into a
trance and then paints his visions
on the wall. People would return to
these cave paintings generation
after generation. Is it a ritual to get
in touch with the supernatural?
Most likely some sort of religious
Best known cave paintings are in Lascaux, France. Lots of
scenes with animals, about 600 paintings and 1,500 engravings.
Hall of Bulls. Lascaux Cave. Dordogne, France. c. 15,000 BCE. Paint
Bird-headed man with bison. Lascaux Cave. c. 15,000 BCE.
Paint on limestone.
Bison. Le Tuc d’Audobert, France. c. 13,000 BCE. Unbaked clay.
Shift from Paleolithic to Neolithic: The development of
agriculture. Plant and animal domestication. This led to more
permanent architectural innovation, what we call “home”
today. Wheat and barley was cultivated and sheep, goats,
cattle and pigs were bred. They also balanced hunting and
gathering with farming and animal breeding to maintain a
ready food supply. This was happening around 6,000 BCE in
Post-and-lintel construction: 2 upright horizontal elements
(posts) with a supporting horizontal element (lintel). Lots of
early structures are composed of this kind of building.
Megalithic architecture: (Greek for Large Stone) In western and
northern Europe we see ceremonial structures erected as
megaliths. In the case of Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England, the
stones weighed a couple tons each and were carried over great
distances. This tells us that the society operating at that time
was a cooperative one, working together to erect a miraculous
Stonehenge. Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, England. c. 2900—1500 BCE
Bronze Age – Age of metals appeared in Europe around 3000
BCE. Evidence of copper, gold, and tin was being mined,
worked and traded in central and southern Europe.
Metal was first used as ornamentation. Then came the discovery
of mixing tin and copper to produce an alloy, bronze.
What does prehistoric mean?
When was art first starting to be seen in prehistoric times?
What were the main differences between homo sapiens sapiens
What is sculpture-in-the-round?
What are some theories behind cave painting?
What are some theories behind the meaning of Stonehenge?
What is bronze?
What are the main differences between Paleolithic and
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