Prehistory : PALEOLITHIC

PALEOLITHIC – 30,000 BCE – 9,000 BCE

old stone age hunters & gatherers.

Lion-human 30,000 – 25,000 BCE, Germany

  • found in a cave. oldest known sculpture in existence as of yet. 1st sculpture in the round. approx. 1ft tall. Composite figure – lion & human. Carved from wooly mammoth tusk. Subtractive method. (taking away). Some realism, good proportion.
  • it’s quite a job to do this – must remove tusk from animal (& that’s a process), cut tusk into desired size to work with, sandstone to get shape, another sharper stone to carve body, limbs & head. This means it is significant since they took the time to do this.

some archeologists believe it is a shaman wearing the mask of a lion, going into a trance.

Woman from Willendorf 24,000 BCE – Austria

  • found in Willendorf, Vienna. Limestone. Found paint made out of red ocher, so we know it was painted. Sculpture in the round. Originally called “Venus from Willendorf,” but changed b/c that was Greek or whatever and this isn’t.
  • Figure is curvy, thick, level of detail is quite astonishing. Emphasis on breasts, vagina, curves. Fertility. She is large because women put on weight in the hips when they are fertile & this signifies that she is prepared to have children. This also could have been an ideal of beauty from the time period.
  • Not a portrait of a specific woman. These people lived in groups & didn’t have an idea of the individual like we do. Thing on her head might be a hat.
  • Figure is only 4 inches, small, portable, people probably carried it around with them. Some have proposed that this is referencing some kind of goddess, but no one is really sure. Goddess religions predate Christianity and are prominent during this time. Not until Western Religions do we get to prominent male gods and women being pushed down, etc.
  • In the paleolithic, human sculptures were rare, and usually of women.

Woman Holding a Bison Horn - 25,000-20,000 BCE.  – France

  • Relief sculpture. 1 ft, 6 inches. Painted limestone. Oldest relief sculpture. Part of a larger piece found outside of a dwelling. Idealism – don’t have faces, unrealistic size & shape for a hunter-gatherer society.

Mammoth Bone House – 16,000 – 10,000 BCE – Ukraine

  • Early architecture. Can see why animals are important for more than just food – building structures from the bones, a skin would be stretched over the bones as a cover. Inside a firepit was built for cooking, warmth – this is where people would center around. Houses range in size, large dwellings have space to make clothing. More resources = larger houses. Some of these were found with colored floors (powdered ocher)

Cave paintings!

Altamira Cave, Bison, Spain, 12,500 BCE

  • First cave paintings to be discovered in 1879 by an amateur archeologist. At first, it was believed to be a forgery, as nothing like it had ever been found before. Archeologists believed these were not possible and that they must have been made at a later date. This view changed at the beginning of the 20th century, as more and more of these were discovered around France & Europe.
  • This looks like the bison are floating – no ground lines, they are occupying their own space. Archeologists believe this was done over time with multiple contributing artists.
  • Why paint bison in a cave? To depict migration – these animals could lead people to other food and resources. Possibly a spiritual element. Possibly a teaching device or ritualistic.
  • Outcropping of the rocks was also used to create perspective – bison is projecting out toward the viewer. Bison horns have been found at this site – possibly for music, ritual, religious ceremony. Some believe these cultures were too primitive for religion.

Lascaux Cave, Hall of Bulls - 15,000 BCE, France

  • Predate Altamira, but weren’t discovered until 1940 by 2 children playing outside. A duplicate cave has been made to protect the original from tourism, humidity & other deteriorating effects. Original closed in 1963.
  • Hall of Bulls = main hall in the cave. Consists primarily of silhouettes & outlines of bulls in composite view (twisted perspective).
  • Stone lamps were used to see in the dark cave (burning animal fat).
  • Painted by chewing charcoal to dilute it, then blowing it out like spray paint. Sometimes animal bone or reed blowpipes were used. Artists had to stand on the outcropping of the rocks & it is believed they used ropes to pull themselves up high enough to paint these figures.
  • once again, we see the emphasis on animals. Bull = strong, virile animal they’re choosing to depict.
  • Could this just be art for art’s sake, for visual pleasure? Possibly some religious purpose. Sometimes it’s not one or the other, but a grey area. Some believe it may be a gathering or ritual area, maybe some sympathetic magic; shooting arrows at it gives you the idea of a successful hunt. Possibly a place of instruction – older hunters teaching younger hunters about hunters. Could be a mythological story.

here we see a close up of 2 bulls from the cave

Lascaux Cave, bird-headed man with bison - 15,000 BCE

  • this piece is deep in the cave & hard to access. Bison is 3 ft, 8 in. long. Man with a bird mask & a staff with a bird on it. Some believe this is shamanism. Birds play an important part in shamanistic religions, primarily because birds can occupy 2 realms – the earth & the heavens. Also the staff with the bird on it – Shamans in Siberia still use this staff. (looking at contemporary culture to understand ancient cultures)
  • Are the man & the bison occupying the same space? If this is a shaman, he could be having some kind of vision. Bison has been speared & disemboweled. Could be depicting a myth, omen/vision for a good hunt.
  • Oddly enough, the instructor didn’t cover the ithyphallic occurrences here.

Mimis & Kangaroos - 18,000 – 7,000 BCE – Australia

  • Large kangaroo & a baby kangaroo ( food source for Australian Aboriginals.) Background figures – elongated with long arms – Mimi spirits (ancestral spirits). Aboriginals still practice this religion today – some archeologists propose that this is the oldest religion in the world.
  • The aboriginals believe that everything is going on at once – past/present/future. The mimi spirits are hunting kangaroos, these spirits taught people to hunt.
  • Emphasis is, again, on animals, big kangaroo is obviously the focal point, so we know the animal is v. important.
  • X-Ray Style. So we know the aboriginals knew the inside of these animals. Possible reasons for using this style include education, showing a spiritual flow.

(notes from August 24, 2011)