"Humans mainly appear as images of hands, mostly hand stencils made by blowing pigment on a hand held to the wall."
Cave paintings (also known as "parietal art") are painted drawings on cave walls or ceilings, mainly of prehistoric origin, to some 40,000 years ago (around 38,000 BCE) in both Asia and Europe. The exact purpose of the Paleolithic cave paintings is not known. Evidence suggests that they were not merely decorations of living areas since the caves in which they have been found do not have signs of ongoing habitation. They are also often located in areas of caves that are not easily accessible. Some theories hold that cave paintings may have been a way of communicating with others, while other theories ascribe a religious or ceremonial purpose to them. The paintings are remarkably similar around the world, with animals being common subjects that give the most impressive images. Humans mainly appear as images of hands, mostly hand stencils made by blowing pigment on a hand held to the wall.
The earliest known cave paintings/drawings of animals are at least 35,000 years old and are found in Pettakere cave on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, according to dates announced in 2014. Previously it was believed that the earliest paintings were in Europe. The earliest figurative paintings in Europe date back to the Aurignacian period, approximately 30,000 to 32,000 years ago, and are found in the Chauvet Cave in France, and in the Coliboaia Cave in Romania.The earliest non-figurative rock art dates back to approximately 40,000 years ago, the date given both to a disk in the El Castillo cave in Cantabria, Spain and a hand stencil in Sulawesi. There are similar later paintings in Africa, Australia and South America, continuing until recent times in some places, though there is a worldwide tendency for open air rock art to succeed paintings deep in caves.
Subjects, Themes and Patterns
The most common subjects in cave paintings are large wild animals, such as bison, horses, aurochs, and deer, and tracings of human hands as well as abstract patterns, called finger flutings. The species found most often were suitable for hunting by humans, but were not necessarily the actual typical prey found in associated deposits of bones; for example, the painters of Lascaux have mainly left reindeer bones, but this species does not appear at all in the cave paintings, where equine species are the most common. Drawings of humans were rare and are usually schematic as opposed to the more detailed and naturalistic images of animal subjects. One explanation for this may be that realistically painting the human form was "forbidden by a powerful religious taboo." Kieran D. O'Hara, geologist, suggests in his book Cave Art and Climate Change that climate controlled the themes depicted. Pigments used include red and yellow ochre, hematite, manganese oxide and charcoal. Sometimes the silhouette of the animal was incised in the rock first, and in some caves all or many of the images are only engraved in this fashion, taking them somewhat out of a strict definition of "cave painting".
Similarly, large animals are also the most common subjects in the many small carved and engraved bone or ivory (less often stone) pieces dating from the same periods. But these include the group of Venus figurines, which have no real equivalent in cave paintings.
Hand stencils, made by placing a hand on the wall and blowing pigment at it (probably through a pipe of some kind), form a characteristic image of a roughly round area of solid pigment with the uncoloured shape of the hand in the centre, which may then be decorated with lines or dashes. These are often found in the same caves as other paintings, or may be the only form of painting in a location. Some walls contain many hand stencils. Similar hands are also painted in the usual fashion. A number of hands show a finger wholly or partly missing, for which a number of explanations have been given. Hand images are found in similar forms in Europe, Eastern Asia and South America.
Using the Human Time-Line above, choose a category of human evolution (ex: homo habilis). Using that category of evolution complete the following activities:
Answer the following questions in your sketchbook.
- Use the internet to find out what a person in that time frame might look like. Draw a picture and label it in your sketchbook. Make sure you pay attention to detail.
- Draw some examples of tools that person would have in that time.
- Draw the persons surroundings. Are there others? What country is this person located? What would the habitat look like in that area?
Answer the following questions in your sketchbook.
- How far back to cave paintings date back to?
- What is the purpose of cave paintings?
- Where in caves are cave paintings usually found?
- How wer hand stencil paintings made?
- When do the earliest figurative paintings date to?
- List three areas of the world where cave paintings have been found.
- What are the most common themes of cave paintings?
- What is finger fluting?
- What were popular pigments used for the paintings?
- What is incising? How is it used in art?