Prehistoric art and the earliest civilizations


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Overview of the earliest art and architecture

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Prehistoric art and the earliest civilizations

  1. 1. Prehistory and the Birth of Civilization (c. 7,000,000 BCE-3500 BCE) Lecture I
  2. 2. Prehistory and the Birth of Civilization Prehistory is defined as the period of time before written records Dating Conventions and Abbreviations •B.C.=before Christ B.C.E.=before the Common Era •A.D.=Anno Domini (in the year of our Lord) C.E.=Common Era •c. or ca.= circa •C.=century
  3. 3. Outline of Prehistoric Period Paleolithic (c. 7,000,000 BCE-10,000 BCE) – Lower (Early Stone Age) • The Lower Paleolithic lasted between 2.5 million-200,000 years ago • Marked by first evidence of craft and use of stone tools – Middle (Middle Stone Age) • Dates to about 200,000 to 45,000 years ago • Evolution of Neanderthals and earliest anatomically modern Homo sapiens sapiens • First evidence of modern behaviors: sophisticated stone tools, caring for the elderly, hunting and gathering and some amount of symbolic or ritual behavior – Upper (Late Stone Age) • • • • Dates from 45,000-10,000 years ago Neanderthals were in decline, and by 30,000 BP, they were gone Modern humans spread all over the planet Characterized by fully modern behaviors including cave art, hunting, and making a wide range of tools in stone, bone, ivory and antler
  4. 4. Cave Paintings • The first “paintings” were probably made 15,000 years ago • Pictures of bison, deer, horses, cattle, mammoths and boars are in the most remote recesses of the caves, from the entrance • Scholars proposed the social function of art lead to totemistic rites and increase ceremonies used to enhance fertility Map of region with known caves containing cave paintings
  5. 5. Paleolithic Themes: • Survival • Fertility • Animals Forms: • Anatomical exaggeration • Pictorial definition • Twisted perspective Spotted horses and negative hand imprints, Pech-Merle, France, ca. 22,000BCE. Approx. 11’2” in length
  6. 6. Paleolithic Example: • Deep in cave • New tools • Use of surface • Twisted perspective • Animals • Signs and representations of humans • Narrative? Rhinoceros, wounded man, and disemboweled bison, Lascaux, France, ca. 15,00013,000BCE.
  7. 7. Lascaux Cave paintings Lascaux, Dordogne, France, ca. 15,000-13,000 B.C.E. Pigment on stone, various dimensions.
  8. 8. Twisted Perspective – horns, eyes & hooves are shown as seen from the front, yet heads & bodies are rendered in profile
  9. 9. Prehistoric Art Tools •Cave artists used charcoal to outline the walls; sometimes they incised the wall with sharp stones or charcoal sticks •The “paints” used were ground minerals like red and yellow ochre; binders including spit were probably used •The minerals were applied directly on the damp limestone walls •Fat burning lamps were used to light the space
  10. 10. Early Dwellings • Some of the earliest organized dwellings have been found in Ukraine and parts of Russia • The remains of at least 70 dwellings have been found near Mezhirich, Ukraine Map including Mezhirich, Ukraine, ca 15,000-10,000 BC
  11. 11. Early Dwellings • The earliest structured settlements are found in open air encampments on the plains of eastern Europe • These seasonal settlements of about 50 nomadic huntergatherers are often located on promontories (a prominent mass of land that overlooks lower-lying land or a body of water) Reconstruction of Mezhirich Village, Mezhirich, Ukraine, ca 16,000-10,000 BCE
  12. 12. Early Dwellings • Massive bones act as thermal mass, absorbing the sun then releasing heat • The wood frame was covered with insulating layers of hide, also used as flooring • A south facing entry let in low level sun Reconstruction of Mezhirich Village, Mezhirich, Ukraine, ca 16,000-10,000 BCE
  13. 13. Early Dwellings • Mammoth skulls and jawbones were turned upside down and interlocked to form a herringbone pattern that served as the foundation of the huts that were between 13 and 16 feet across. Reconstruction of Mezhirich Village, Mezhirich, Ukraine, ca 16,000-10,000 BCE
  14. 14. Early Dwellings • The substantial huts at Mezhirich have clearly defined circular/oval layouts focused on a large central hearth • These huts incorporate large accumulations of tusks, jaws or leg bones of wooly mammoths Mezhirich Village, Mezhirich, Ukraine, ca 16,000-10,000 BCE
  15. 15. Early Dwellings • The roofs were domed or conical in shape, with internal frames of wood • Curved mammoth tusks were laid over as arched roof supports, long leg bones provide support for the stretched skin "door" at the entry Projected reconstruction of Mezhirich dwelling, Mezhirich Front Back Elevations Mezhirich, Ukraine, ca 16,000-10,000 BCE
  16. 16. Early Dwellings • Artifacts found in the interior include a mammoth skull painted with red symbols, a tusk carved with what may be a map and imported amber • Some floors show evidence of having been colored (by ochre for example) evidence humans at this time were making aesthetic choices about their homes • The hut was likely an everyday living space but may have served some ritual, communal purpose Reconstruction of mammoth-bone house, Mezhirich Front Back Elevations Mezhirich, Ukraine, ca 16,000-10,000 BCE
  17. 17. Paleolithic Dates and Places: • 30,000-9,000BCE • Western Europe People: • Nomads • Hunter-gatherers Two bison, ca. 15,000-10,000 BCE. From a cave at Le Tuc d’Audoubert, Ariége, France. Clay, each approx. 2’ long.
  18. 18. • During the Paleolithic period sculpture was necessarily small (in order to be portable) and mainly consisted of either figurines or decorated objects • These things were carved (from stone, bone or antlers) or modeled with clay • Most sculptures found are of animals and women Bison licking its shoulder, Le Madeleine, c. 15,000 BCE. Reindeer horn, 4 1/8” high. Le Musée National de Préhistoire, Les Eyzies-de-Tayac Woman from Brassempouy, c. 22, 000 BCE. Ivory, 1 ¼” high. Musée d'Archéologie Nationale, Paris.
  19. 19. Paleolithic Example: • Portable • Fertility figure • Survival • Exaggeration Nude Woman, ca. 28,00025,000BCE. Painted limestone, 4 3/9.” Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria
  20. 20. Paleolithic Example: • • • • • • • Discovered in 1908 Originally titled Woman of Willendorf by academics after site where found in Lower Austria Carved from limestone, not native to the area, and originally colored in red ochre – Dented belly button natural characteristic of stone Here woman is associated with the lifegiving powers of Mother Earth Productive organs exaggerated emphasizing Woman’s importance as child-bearer and nurture Nude Woman, ca. 28,00025,000BCE. Painted limestone, Women probably served as healers and 4 3/9.” Naturhistorisches nurtures Museum, Vienna, Austria Gathered berried and fruits
  21. 21. • Woman of Willendorf, previously dubbed the Venus of Willendorf by academics predates her mythological namesake by millennia Nude Woman, ca. 28,000-25,000BCE. Painted limestone, 4 3/9.” Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria Praxiteles, Aphrodite of Knidos, c. 383 BCE. Marble, 6’8.” Getty Villa, CA.
  22. 22. • Many prehistoric figures featuring the female form are collectively referred to as Venus figurines Venus of Dolní Věstonice, Moravia, Czeck Republic. Ceramic (fired clay), 4.4” x 1.7” Woman of Lespugue, from cave of Les Rideaux, France, ca. 20,000 B.C.E. Mammoth ivory, 5 ¾” high
  23. 23.  While most prehistoric sculptures are in the round, Venus of Laussel is a good example of relief sculpture recovered  Evident are the exaggerated portions of the female anatomy associated with reproduction and feeding the young  Her hand rests on her abdomen, there is a "Y" on her thigh, and her faceless head is turned toward the horn  The figure holds a wisent horn, or possibly a cornucopia, in one hand, which has 13 notches  according to some researchers, this may symbolize the number of moons or the number of menstrual Venus of Laussel, c. 25,000-23,000 cycles in one year BCE. Painted limestone, 17 3/8.” Bordeaux Museum, France.
  24. 24. Neolithic Dates and Places: • 8,000-2,000BCE • Western Europe, Near East People: • Settled in villages • Farmers • Complex rituals Map showing distribution of some of the main culture complexes in Neolithic Europe, c.3,500 BCE
  25. 25. Outline of Prehistoric Period Neolithic (“New Stone Age”) •By some estimates, begins as early as 10,200 BCE-4000 BCE •Initiated with the beginning of farming which produced the “Neolithic Revolution” – It ended when metal tools became widespread (in the Copper Age or Bronze Age; or, in some geographical regions, in the Iron Age) •Characterized by a progression of behavioral and cultural characteristics and changes, including the use of wild and domestic crops and of domesticated animals
  26. 26. Neolithic Revolution • End of Ice Age (100,000 – 8000 BCE) brought ability to search for new food • Systemic Agriculture – making the conscious decision to plant & grow food • Domestication – Raising goats, sheep, pigs & cattle • Development of permanent, year-round settlements (and eventually, civilization)
  27. 27. Skara Brae • Neolithic settlement located on the Bay of Skaill in northern Scotland on the west coast of the mainland • Discovered 1850 after a bad winter storm unearthed a cluster of 8 houses • Occupied from 3180 BCE-2500 BCE Reconfigured settlement at Skara Brae
  28. 28. • Corbeling – layers of stones are piled on top of each other to form walls without mortar Skara Brae, Scotland
  29. 29. Skara Brae • Excavations at Skara Brae show evidence of home furnishings • The dwellings contain a number of stone-built pieces of furniture, including cupboards, dressers, seats, and storage boxes. • Each house measures an average of 430 square feet • Each had a room with central hearth for warmth against harsh winters • Scholars estimate no more than 50 people lived here at any given period House I of Skara Brae, Scotland
  30. 30. Jericho Great stone tower built into the settlement wall, Jericho, ca. 8000-7000 BCE. •Wall: 3.6m H x 1.8m width at base •Tower: 3.6m H with staircase of 22 stone steps Great Stone Tower of Settlement Wall, Jericho, Israel/Gazaca. 8,000-7,000 B.C.E.
  31. 31. Neolithic • At Ain Ghazal, archaeologists have uncovered dozens of large white plaster Neolithic statuettes with details added in paint and shell • These mark the beginning of monumental sculpture in the history of art Human figure, from Ain Ghazal, Jordan, ca. 6,750-6,250 B.C.E. Plaster, painted and inlaid with cowrie shell and bitumen, 3’ 5 3/8”
  32. 32. Çatal Höyük  One of the most excavated sites of the Neolithic period South area excavation of Çatal Höyük, Turkey, in 2003 Restoration of a typical interior, Çatal Höyük, Turkey, ca. 6,0005,900 B.C.E.
  33. 33. Çatal Höyük,  çatal is Turkish for "fork,” höyük for "mound”  Dates between approximately 7,000 BCE and 5,000 BCE  One of world’s first experiments in urban living  Design of village suggests some predetermined scheme Çatal Höyük, Turkey, ca. 6,000-5,900 B.C.E.
  34. 34. Çatal Höyük, A wall painting located in Catal Huyuk, believed to be the earliest landscape and history painting. Fresco, c. 7500 BCE.
  35. 35. Neolithic Themes: • Human activity • Building for community Forms: • Composite view • Mud brick and stone construction • Post-and-lintel • Monumental sculpture Deer Hunt, detail of a wall painting, c. 5750 BCE. Level III, Çatal Höyük, Turkey, ca.
  36. 36. Neolithic Example: • Post-and-lintel construction • Monumental architecture • Megaliths • Astronomical observatory Stonehenge, ca. 2500-1600BCE.
  37. 37. Megalithic Architecture “Large stone” (mega + lithos) •Powerful religious or political figures and beliefs was the impetus for these massive building projects Two types: •Dolmen – large, vertical stones with a covering slab like a giant table (mounded over with dirt to form a cairn) •Menhir – single stone set on its end Positioned: •Henge – circular arrangement of stones •Alignment – in rows
  38. 38. Dolmens, also called "chamber tombs," usually contain one or more chambers or rooms in which the dead were buried. Some dolmens also contain long, stone chambers or halls which connect different rooms. These long chambers also are referred to as "Long tombs" and "passage-graves." Dolmens found in Ireland, Scotland, England, France
  39. 39. • Menhirs are large standing stones, or groups of standing stones, arranged in circles, or cromlechs, and henges. Various Menhirs found in Ireland, Scotland, England,and France
  40. 40. Menhir alignments at Ménec, Carnac, France, ca. 4,250-3,750 BCE
  41. 41. Neolithic Architecture • Stonehenge is bar far the most wellknown of Neolithic structures • Scholars debate the various theories of the function of Stonehenge • Built over 2000 years Stonehenge, Salisury Plain, Wiltshire, England, ca 2,550-1,600 B.C.E. Sarsen and bluestone
  42. 42. A folk tale, which cannot be dated earlier than the 17th century, relates the tale: The Devil bought the stones from a woman in Ireland, wrapped them up, and brought them to Salisbury plain. One of the stones fell into the Avon, the rest were carried to the plain. The Devil then cried out, “No-one will ever find out how these stones came here!” A friar replied, “That’s what you think!” whereupon the Devil threw one of the stones at him and struck him on the heel. The stone stuck in the ground and is still there. Stonehenge, ca. 2500-1600BCE. Various stones, various dimensions. Salisbury Plain, England.
  43. 43. • Stonehenge is aligned with the rising sun at the midsummer solstice • It may have served to predict both lunar and solar eclipses • It may have been used to track seasonal changes, something essential to agricultural society Stonehenge, ca. 2500-1600BCE. Various stones, various dimensions. Salisbury Plain, England.
  44. 44. • Stonehenge makes use of post-and-lintel construction Views of Stonehenge’s post-and-lintel structures