Prehistoric Art Timeline
Chronological List of Dates of Paleolithic, Mesolithic & Neolithic Culture.
A-Z of PREHISTORIC ART

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Prehistoric Art Timeline (2.5 Million - 500 BCE)


Maikop Gold Bull (2500 BCE) Russia


An extremely rare outline of a weasel
executed in 10 flawless strokes in
Niaux Cave about 13,000 BCE.

Introduction

Below is a selected chronological list of important dates showing the development of prehistoric art and culture from the Pliocene epoch, through the Lower, Middle and Upper Paleothic eras of the Pleistocene epoch of the Stone Age, and reaching down to the Mesolithic (or Epipalaeolithic), Neolithic, Bronze and Iron ages of the Holocene epoch. Not content with simply making tools, Homo sapiens and later modern man created a huge range of Stone Age art, beginning with primitive Acheulean culture petroglyphs - such as cupules and rock carvings - and ending in stunning works of prehistoric sculpture (like the venus figurines), and the beautiful Magdalenian era cave paintings of Altamira. Stone Age artists used every sort of material they could find, ranging from rock-hard quartzite to softer stones like steatite, serpentine, sandstone and limestone, as well as mammoth ivory, reindeer antler, and animal bones. Art of the later Neolithic period is exemplified by exquisite ceramics, magnificent early bronze and gold castings, and the monumental architecture of the pyramids, ziggurats and megalithic structures of Newgrange and Stonehenge. Brought to life thanks to the efforts of archeologists and paleoanthropologists, the art of prehistory remains an integral chapter in the evolution of man.

• For Eastern cultures, see: Chinese Art Timeline (from 18,000 BCE).

• For the most ancient works, see: Oldest Stone Age Art.


Date Event
2,500,000 BCE








2,500,000


1,700,000
1,600,000


1,500,000
400,000
300,000

290,000



230,000
LOWER PALEOLITHIC ERA BEGINS
The first of three time periods of the Paleolithic - an era which witnessed several Ice Ages and glaciations, and during which early hominids like Australopithecus afarensis, Australopithecus africanus, and Paranthropus robustus, developed first into Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis, then into Homo erectus, Homo ergaster, Homo erectus, and Homo heidelbergensis, before metamorphosing into Homo sapiens, Homo neanderthalensis and ultimately anatomically modern man (Homo sapiens sapiens. eg. Cro-Magnon man). Human evolution is defined via the development of stone tools, a process which impacts on the development of ancient art.
Olduwan tool Culture begins. Its key feature was the method of chipping stones to create a chopping or cutting edge. The first stone tools of the Lower Paleolithic. (Earliest types unearthed at Hadar, Ethiopia).
Oldest utilitarian (non-artistic) cupule discovered at the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.
End of Pliocene, start of Pleistocene geologic period. Coincides with the replacement of Olduwan cultures with more advanced Acheulean tool culture. the dominant tool-making tradition of the Lower Paleolithic era throughout Africa and much of Asia and Europe.
By this point, the human species has become a major predator.
Emergence of Clactonian culture of European flint tool manufacture.
Beginning of Mousterian tool culture in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, associated with the production of serrated edge blades.
The earliest art is the Petroglyphs of Bhimbetka - consisting of cupules and other rock art found at Auditorium Cave, Bhimbetka and at Daraki-Chattan Cave, both in Madhya Pradesh, Central India, and both dated c.290,000 - 700,000 BCE or later. These are the oldest known prehistoric works of art, and the first examples of art from India.
Venus of Berekhat Ram
, rock figurine, (dated c.230,000 - 700,000 BCE). This is the oldest known example of prehistoric mobiliary art.
200,000
200,000
100,000


70,000
60,000

40,000

39,000

38,000


37,000


35,000

33,000


33,000-30,000
30,000






25,000




25,000



24,000
23,000




22,000


20,000

18,000

17,500

17,000



16,000
15,500
15,000




14,540

14,300
14,000
13,500
13,000
12,500
12,000
11,000
10,500
10,000

MIDDLE PALEOLITHIC ERA BEGINS
Appearance of anatomically modern man (Homo sapiens sapiens) in sub-Saharan Africa.
High point of Levallois culture, an advanced flint-knapping culture. Earliest African art appears, the Venus of Tan-Tan figurine. Modern man begins to migrate north out of Africa (100,000-70,000 BCE). Beginning of last Ice Age.
Blombos Cave engravings with cross-hatch designs on two pieces of ochre rock.
Diepkloof eggshell engravings, Africa's next oldest art. Neanderthal prehistoric artists create the La Ferrassie Cave Cupules.
UPPER PALEOLITHIC ERA BEGINS (Modern Man Replaces Neanderthal Man)

Start of Aurignacian art - the beginning of cave art around the world.
Oldest known parietal art consisting of prehistoric abstract signs (like red dots/disks and hand stencils) - see El Castillo Cave paintings.
The ivory carving known as the Lion Man of Hohlenstein-Stadel is carved. The earliest Asian art emerges... namely Sulawesi Cave art created in Indonesia, suggesting man developed artistic ability before leaving Africa.
First of the Venus figurines - the Venus of Hohle Fels is made. Venus figurines are miniature carvings of obese female figures with exaggerated body parts and genitalia. Gorham's Cave art in Gibraltar.
Fumane Cave paintings, the world's oldest figurative pictures. Abri Castanet engravings, the oldest cave art in France.
Beginning of Perigordian (aka Chatelperronian) culture. Derived from the earlier Mousterian, practised by Homo neanderthalensis, it employed Levallois flake-tool technology, producing serrated stone tools as well as a flint blades known as "Chatelperron points".
Important animal & figurative carvings, like: Swabian Jura ivory carvings (Vogelherd cave).
Venus of Galgenberg (Stratzing Figurine). First known cave painting appears in France: see the Chauvet cave paintings in the Ardeche Valley; see Coliboaia Cave Art, Romania.
Ubirr rock painting in Arnhem Land, Australia, is believed to be the earliest Oceanic Art. Other very early sites of Aboriginal Rock Art include the Burrup Peninsula rock engravings in the Pilbara; cupules among the Kimberley rock art in Western Australia; the Nawarla Gabarnmang charcoal drawing (carbon-dated to 26,000 BCE) in Arnhem Land. First of the engraved drawings at the Grotte des Deux Ouvertures in the Ardeche.
Gravettian art begins. Practised in eastern, central and western Europe, its signature tool (a development of the Châtelperron point) was a small pointed blade with a blunt but straight back - called a Gravette Point. See also the Venus of Monpazier, France.
Venus of Dolni Vestonice
, first ceramic figurine, Romania. Earliest work of ceramic art.
Apollo 11 Cave Stones painted in charcoal and ochre, Namibia.
Venus of Willendorf, obese female oolitic limestone sculpture, Austria.
Cosquer Cave painting (Marseilles) and the Gargas Cave hand stencils (Hautes-Pyrenees).
Venus of Savignano, sculpture in serpentine stone, Italy.
Pech-Merle cave paintings similar in style to Cussac Cave Engravings.
Venus of Moravany mammoth ivory figurine, Slovakia and Roucadour Cave Art, France.
Limestone Venus of Kostenky, Russia. Cougnac Cave art with its 'wounded man.'
Venus of Laussel limestone bas-relief sculpture (c.23,000 BCE).
Venus of Brassempouy, first prehistoric carving with facial features, France.
The Salmon of Abri du Poisson Cave, bas-relief limestone fish sculpture, France.
Venus of Lespugue, ivory sculpture, France.
The Russian school of venus sculpture: see Venus of Kostenky, Russia's oldest sculpture, also Venus of Gagarino, the Avdeevo Venuses, the Zaraysk Venuses and the Siberian Mal'ta Venuses. The Coa Valley Engravings, oldest outdoor petroglyphs in Europe.
Beginning of Solutrean art. Solutrean tool-makers developed a number of uniquely advanced techniques not equalled for millennia.
Xianrendong Cave Pottery - the world's most ancient pottery from Jiangxi, China. In Spain, La Pileta Cave is noted for its giant fish drawing.
Le Placard Cave, type-site for prehistoric pictographs known as Placard type signs. Koonalda Cave Art (finger-fluting)
The first Lascaux cave paintings are made, the highlight of Franco-Cantabrian Cave Art, plus rock engravings in the French caves of Le Roc-de-Sers Cave Engravings, La Tete du Lion and Spanish Cave of La Pasiega.
Aboriginal Bradshaw paintings frst appear in the Kimberley, Western Australia.
Yuchanyan Cave Pottery made in Hunan Province, China.
Vela Spila pottery made in Croatia. For more chronology, see: Pottery Timeline.
Magdalenian art begins, the final major culture of the Upper Paleolithic, practised by Homo Sapiens across western and central Europe, as the Ice retreated northwards. It replaced all earlier Aurignacian, Gravettian and Solutrean influence. Cap Blanc frieze created.
Altamira cave paintings: "Sistine Chapel of Stone Age Art", Spain.
Lortet Reindeer, engraving on antler fragment, France.
Earliest Jomon pottery, Odaiyamamoto I site, Japan. Earliest known Japanese Art.
Russian Venus of Eliseevichi (Bryansk).
Amur River Basin Pottery, first ceramic art in Russia. Font de Gaume Cave Paintings.
Rouffignac Cave ("Cave of a Thousand Mammoths"); Tito Bustillo Cave (14,000 BCE).
Tuc d'Audoubert Bison, relief clay sculptures, France.
Trois Freres Cave paintings, and the German Venus of Engen.
Kapova Cave paintings, Burzyansky Region, Bashkortostan.
Roc-aux-Sorciers frieze, Les Combarelles Cave engravings.
Addaura Cave engravings, Monte Pellegrino, Italy.
Cooper Bison Skull (Oklahoma). One of the oldest examples of American Indian art.
Venus of Monruz-Neuchatel, the oldest art in Switzerland. End of Paleolithic art. End of the last Ice Age.

10,000








9,500



9,000
8,200
8,000



7,500
7,000


6,000
5,500

5,000




4,000



4,000-2,500




3,500



3,300
3,200



3,200



3,100

2,800

2,700
2,660



2,500




2,100
2,000
2,000-1,500
1,780
1,750

1,700
1,600
1,530-1,500


1,500

1,450
1,425
1,390
1,250
1,200

1,184
1,100
1050-221
900
800
800-700


600 BCE
MESOLITHIC ERA BEGINS
This is associated with a wide variety of races, including the Azilian Ofnet Man (Bavaria); several types of Cro-Magnon Man, brachycephalic humans (short-skulled), dolichocephalic humans (long-skulled). The Mesolithic is a transitional era between the chipped-tool, hunter-gatherer culture of the Upper Paleolithic, and the polished-tool, farming culture of the Neolithic. In areas with no ice (eg. the Middle East), people transitioned quite rapidly from hunting/gathering to agriculture. Their Mesolithic period was therefore short, and often referred to as the Epi-Paleolithic or Epipaleolithic. 10,000 BCE marks the end of the Pleistocene geological epoch and the start of the Holocene. Start of Chinese Pottery.
Cueva de las Manos (Cave of the Hands), stencils, paintings, Argentina, the most famous example of Mesolithic art in the Americas. Large finds of Stone Age artifacts at Fell's Cave in Patagonia and Blackwater Draw in eastern New Mexico (Clovis culture).
Bhimbetka Rock Art, paintings, stencils, abstract symbols, India.
Pachmari Hills: sandstone rock drawings, paintings, India.
Wonderwerk Cave engravings of geometric designs, ideograms, animals, South Africa.
NEOLITHIC ERA BEGINS IN MIDDLE EAST AND SOUTHEAST EUROPE
Tassili-n-Ajjer rock art, Algerian paintings and petroglyphs.
Ancient Persian pottery from Ganj Dareh (Valley of Treasure). Jiahu turquoise carvings, bone flutes, Henan Province China.
Shigir Idol, the world's oldest surviving wood carving of a human figure.
Beginning of Neolithic Art in China (7000-2000 BCE). The major form of Neolithic art was ceramic pottery. Oven-fired pottery appears in Mesopotamia where farming begins.
People settle on the banks of the River Nile.
Coldstream Burial Stone, Western Cape Province, South Africa.
Goddess terracotta figurine, Catal Huyuk, Anatolia, an early example of religious art.
Egyptian bone, ivory, stone figurines from Naquada I Period.
Persian Chalcolithic pottery.
Linear Ceramic culture emerges in France, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic.
Thinker of Cernavoda, the Romanian terracotta sculpture of the Hamangia culture.
Fish God of Lepenski Vir, sandstone carving of therianthropic figure, Serbia.
Samarra and Halaf ceramic plates: see: Sumerian Art and Mesopotamian art (c.4500-539).
NEOLITHIC ERA BEGINS IN NORTHERN & WESTERN EUROPE

Mesolithic Era ends in Europe, superceded by the Neolithic (New Stone Age), a much more settled form of existence, based on farming and rearing of domesticated animals, as well as the use of polished tools.
Jade carving begins in China, as does Chinese lacquerware and silk production.
Earliest megalithic architecture, like: the megaliths at Evora, in Portugal (from 5,000); Breton Cairn of Barnenez (from 4,450); the tombs and monuments of Carrowmore, Cuil Irra Peninsula, Ireland (from 4,300). Building of Stonehenge stone circle begins (c.2,600 BCE). See also: megalithic art.
Mesopotamian civilization begins (Iraq). Emergence of Uruk, first city-state. First wheeled vehicles appear in Europe. Ancient Persian art includes the intricate ceramics from Susa and Persepolis. Oldest known prehistoric bronze sculptures produced in the Maikop culture of the Russian North Caucasus around 3,500, using simple arsenic bronze process.
Sumerian civilization (S. Iraq). First writing system (hieroglyphs). Cuneiform script 3200.
Egyptian art and civilization begins. Building of Newgrange Megalithic Tomb begins.
Sumerian civilization develops its own monumental architecture - a type of stepped pyramid called a ziggurat, built from clay-fired bricks. See History of Architecture.

BRONZE AGE BEGINS IN EUROPE

Metallurgy develops, as does Bronze Age art. The more complex copper-and-tin bronze casting techniques appear in the Indus Valley Civilization of India during the period.
First use of horses for drawing wagons and carts. See: Egyptian Architecture (3000 on).
First wheeled transport (Sumeria).
Egyptians create first wall paintings in tombs.
Copper-working begins in southern France.
Emergence of Beaker culture in Europe (named after their distinctive drinking vessels).
Egyptians develop first painted relief sculptures.
Egyptians develop the first seated and free-standing statues.
Start of Egyptian Pyramids. Djoser's 'Step Pyramid' at Saqqara (2630); the Architect Hemon designs the Great Pyramid at Giza (2550), one of the Seven Wonders of the World; Khufu builds the Sphinx (2550). See also Early Egyptian Architecture (3100-2181).
Dabous Giraffe Engravings, Taureg Saharan culture. Knowth Megalithic Tomb built.
Valdivia Figurines, First 3-D images of the Americas (Real Alto Ecuador). Mesopotamian sculpture known as Ram in a Thicket, made from gold-leaf, copper, lapis lazuli. Sculptors make Maikop Gold Bull. Start of Aegean Art in eastern Mediterranean.
Bronze Dancing Girl of Mohenjo-Daro, Harappan Culture, Indus Valley Civilization.
Famous Ziggurat constructed in Uruk. Egyptian Middle Kingdom Architecture (2055-1650).
"X-ray" style of Aboriginal rock art developed in Arnhem Land. Xia Dynasty culture, China.
Minoan Palaces built & rebuilt on Crete. Outstanding Minoan artworks: pottery/ceramics.
The written Code of Hammurabi (laws) displayed throughout Babylonian empire.
First outstanding Chinese art appears, bronzes of Shang Dynasty art, as well as the earliest Calligraphy. See: Traditional Chinese Art: Characteristics.
Linear A script introduced by Minoans. Start of Hittite art and Assyrian art of Iraq.
Mycenaean civilisation flourishes in Greece. Glass making perfected in Mesopotamia.
Construction of massive temple complex of Karnak to the god Amon at Thebes. See also: Egyptian New Kingdom Architecture (1550-1069).

IRON AGE BEGINS IN EUROPE

Iron Age Art begins in Europe. Meanwhile, the first bronze sculptures appear in China.
Myceneans invent form of writing based on Minoan Linear B script. See Irish Iron Age Art.
Myceneans (Greek mainland) absorb Minoans.
Amenhotep III builds the palace at Malkata (near Thebes) and temple of Amon at Luxor.
Rameses II builds the Colossus at Memphis, the Hypostyle Hall of the Karnak temple Luxor. Decline of Mycenean civilization. (Architectural Dark Ages begins. Ends 600.)
Approximate beginning of Pre-Columbian art in mesoamerica and South America.
Fall of Troy in Asia Minor. In China, Sanxingdui Bronzes appeared in Sichuan province.
Foundation of the Kingdom of Israel. See also Late Egyptian Architecture (1069 - 200 CE).
First appearance of Geometric style of Greek Pottery.
Zhou Dynasty art, the last period of Bronze Age culture in ancient China.
Earliest settlements appear on Palatine Hill, Rome
Homer writes the Iliad and Odyssey. First Celtic culture discovered.
Hallstatt style of art/design begins characterized by geometric designs. After this comes the elaborate and curvilinear La Tene style of Celtic art (450 BCE), with its spirals, zoomorphs and other Celtic designs.
Hereafter, Greek art and architecture is divided into three basic eras: the Archaic Period (c.600-500 BCE), the Classical Period (c.500-323 BCE) and the Hellenistic Period (c.323-27 BCE). Egyptian, Greek and Etruscan artists greatly influence later Roman art, as well as Byzantine art.

• For later painting and sculpture, see: History of Art Timeline.
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