Oldest Art
World's Earliest Prehistoric Petroglyphs, Cupules: Stone Age Engravings, Carvings and Cave Paintings.

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The oldest known prehistoric art.
A cupule at the Auditorium Cave at
Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh, India.
It dates from (290,000-700,000 BCE).

Oldest Prehistoric Art: "The Top 10"

Contents

Introduction
The World's Oldest Art - "The Top 10 Earliest Artworks"
Short Guide To Stone Age Chronology
How is Stone Age Art Dated?

See also: Oldest Art: Top 50 Works.
• To put this ancient art into context, see Prehistoric Art Timeline.



Cave Painting from Chauvet Cave
dating from about 30,000 BCE.

Introduction

Here is a list of the top 10 oldest works of art created during the Stone Age. Please note that any compilation of the earliest sculptures and paintings is subject to revision as new archeological discoveries are made. Furthermore, despite the widening range of archeological dating techniques (see below) - such as radiometric carbon dating, thermo-luminescence, optically stimulated luminescence, and others - not every work of art can be dated with great accuracy if the geological environment lacks important measurable elements.

Thus sometimes, dating can be dependent on paleontologist scholarship to provide the historical context against which an artifact's relevance and age can be assessed.


Venus of Hohle Fels (ivory)
World's Oldest figurative carving.
(c. 35,000-40,000 BCE)
University of Tubingen, Germany.

At present, a large variety of fossils, tools and artifacts are being studied by paleoanthropologists and other Stone Age scholars, in order to fix their date of origin. The same applies to archeological sites, containing rock art like cupules, petroglyphs, pictographs and other prehistoric works. Thus this list of the earliest recorded art by our incredible ancestors including Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis, and Homo sapiens - should be seen merely as a snapshot of an ongoing process of discovery.

Sadly, none of the prehistoric carvers, sculptors or painters are known to us, so their works will have to speak for themselves! Finally, any compilation of ancient art is limited by the hand of nature: after all, after hundreds of millennia, soft rock crumbles, pigments disappear, and wood perishes. Thus much of the finest African art, primitive tribal artworks and aboriginal Oceanic culture from the Paleolithic world, are already lost to us. That said, here is list of the earliest art by Stone Age man.



Tuc d'Audoubert Bison (c.13,500 BCE)
Clay reliefs of Two Bison found in the
Tuc d'Audoubert Cave, Ariege, France.
The fourth oldest relief sculptures in
the world, after the Venus of Laussel
(23,000-20,000 BCE, Dordogne), the
low reliefs of salmon (23,000 BCE,
in the Abri du Poisson Cave, Perigord)
and the relief of a horse (15,000 BCE,
Musee d'Archeologie Nationale,
in France).

 

The World's Oldest Art - Top 10

1. Auditorium Cave Petroglyphs, Bhimbetka (290,000-700,000 BCE)
Cupules carved on Hard Quartzite
Acheulian Period
Auditorium Rock Shelter, Madhya Pradesh, Central India

2. Daraki-Chattan Cave Petroglyphs (290,000-700,000 BCE)
Rock engravings (What are petroglyphs?)
Acheulian Period
Indragarh Hill, Madhya Pradesh, Central India

3. Venus of Berekhat Ram (230,000-700,000 BCE)
Basaltic figurine - oldest known prehistoric sculpture.
Acheulian Period
Golan Heights, Israel

4. Venus of Tan-Tan (200,000-500,000 BCE)
Quartzite figurine
Acheulian Period
Tan-Tan, Morocco

5. Blombos Cave Rock Art (c.70,000 BCE)
Abstract engravings with cross-hatch designs on two pieces of ochre
Mousterian Period
Blombos Cave, 200 miles east of Capetown, South Africa

 

6. La Ferrassie Cave Cupules (c.70,000-40,000 BCE)
Eighteen cupules on a limestone slab covering Neanderthal tomb
Mousterian/Aurignacian Periods
Les Eyzies, Dordogne, France

7. Venus of Hohle Fels (c. 35,000-40,000 BCE)
Ivory sculpture of an obese female. Oldest known figurative carving.
Aurignacian Culture
Hohle Fels Cave in the Swabian Jura of southwestern Germany

8. Swabian Jura Ivory Carvings (c.33,000-30,000 BCE)
Mammoth ivory carvings of prehistoric animals, birds, therianthropic figures
Aurignacian Period
Caves of Vogelherd, Hohle Fels, Hohlenstein-Stadel, Geißenklosterle, Germany
[See also the Swabian carving : Lion Man of Hohlenstein Stadel (30,000 BCE).]

9. Bone Venus of Kostenky (c.30,000 BCE)
Mammoth bone carving of female figure
Aurignacian Period
Kostenky (Kostenki), Russia [see: Venus Figurines; Willendorf, Brassempouy]

10. Chauvet Cave Paintings (c.30,000 - 23,000 BCE)
Monochrome pictures of animals, and abstract geometric art (ideomorphs)
Aurignacian and Gravettian Period
Ardèche, France [see: Cave Painting; Lascaux, Altamira, Pech-Merle, Cosquer]

Short Guide To Stone Age Chronology

Here is an outline of the basic timeline and dates of the Stone Age.

Paleolithic Stone Age

Lower Paleolithic (2,500,000 - 200,000 BCE)
Associated with early forms of rock art, like cupules and other petroglyphs.

Middle Paleolithic (200,000 - 40,000 BCE)
The earliest figurines appear, along with more complex rock drawings, ideomorphs and engravings. Neanderthal Man appears.

Upper Paleolithic (40,000-8,000 BCE)
The major period of early fine art, exemplified by portable art like the Venus Figurines, bas-relief sculpture and the polychrome cave paintings of Lascaux and Altamira. Early ceramic pottery also appears. Neanderthal man replaced by anatomically modern man, like Cro-Magnon Man. See also: Aboriginal Rock Art: Australia.

Mesolithic Period (Europe: c.10,000 - 4,000 BCE, Europe)
Mesolithic was a short intervening period between the hunter-gatherer culture of the Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) and the farming culture of the Neolithic (New Stone Age), during which the ice retreated to the poles and melted. In ice-free regions, there is a shorter Mesolithic period (called Epipaleolithic) or else the Neolithic period begins immediately, leading to more sophicated sculpture, open-air rock art and the growth of portable artworks such as Jomon Pottery, an early exemplar of prehistoric Japanese Art.

Neolithic Period (Europe: c.4,000 - 2,000 BCE)
The great civilizations appear, including Sumer, (see Mesopotamian art and Mesopotamian sculpture), Egypt and Persia, as well as the Indus Valley civilization in India. Cities like Jericho, Ur are built, requiring all sorts of architecture and forms of public art. Tomb art, exemplified by Egyptian pyramids, becomes highly developed: see Egyptian Architecture for details. Pictographs and modern systems of writing appear. Europe experiences a much later Neolithic period, and lags behind artistically. Instead of fine art, European artists and architects focus on tomb-building using large megaliths adorned with carvings, engravings and other types of megalithic art. The Stone Age ends with the close of the Neolithic. For a sculptural masterpiece from the late Neolithic of southern Europe, see the terracotta sculpture known as The Thinker of Cernavoda (c.5000 BCE, National Museum of Romanian History, Bucharest).

Bronze Age (Europe: c.3000 BCE - 1200 BCE)

Noted for its metallurgy, including exquisite early bronze, gold and silver metalwork, and ceramics. The first Near East civilizations (Minoan, Mycenean) appear. Trade flourishes around the Mediterranean, leading to exchange of artistic techniques and materials. Celtic Metalwork also inspires.

Iron Age (Europe: c.1500 BCE - 200 BCE)

Greek civilization flourishes on mainland Greece. From about 400 BCE - as Greek art begins to dazzle - we leave prehistory and enter great era of Classical Antiquity characterized by Greek sculpture and Greek Pottery and the more sobre style of Roman art. Early Chinese Pottery also flourished, as did the art of India.

How is Stone Age Art Dated?

Preliminary investigation by paleontologists of the age of a particular stone artifact or rock begins with a thorough examination of the location-site together with a study of the geological record. In order to confirm that the object is contemporaneous with the soil or sedimentary deposit in which it was found, and not a later intrusive burial in an older deposit, comparisons with other fossils, rocks and rock strata are made to establish the site's biostratigraphy. Once contemporaneity has been established the age of the object can be assessed, sometimes quite precisely, using techniques of "absolute" or chronological dating.

A major type of absolute dating is radiometric dating. This relies on the fact that a number of radioactive isotopes (like uranium) are known to decay into daughter products at a known constant rate. Probably the best known example of radiometric testing of living organisms, that may have been found at the site, is carbon-14 (radiocarbon) dating, which relies on Carbon-14 absorption. More recent isochron radiometric dating methods avoid the problems which can potentially result during radiometric testing. Another form is potassium-argon radiometric testing which compares the proportion of potassium to argon in volcanic rock. Thermion mass spectrometry can be used to improve results of uranium-decay dating methods.

Another type of prehistoric dating method is thermoluminescence (like quartzite, flint), designed to stimulate volcanic rocks into releasing electrons from their energy 'pockets'. While regular thermoluminescence (TL) uses heat as a source of stimulation, Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) uses laser light. Other dating methods include: the Uranium Fission-Track method, Obsidian Hydration Dating, Amino Acid Racemization, Cation Ratio Dating, Patination Dating, Electron Spin Resonance and Cosmic-ray Exposure Dating.

• For the origins of painting and sculpture, see: Homepage.


ENCYCLOPEDIA OF STONE AGE ART
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