Prehistoric (old stone age period before the written records) cave paintings might probably be the earliest form of graphic communication. They are a way of expression which some academics would suggest serve as a ‘symbolic or religious function’. These magnificent masterpieces of the paleolithic artists somehow are believed to have some connection with shamanic beliefs and practices.
As per the general definition, the Stone Age was a period that lasted for 3.4 million years ago and ended between 8700 BCE and 2000 BCE. It was a period where stones were widely used to make tools by the early man. The paleolithic period happened in two phases, whereby the first phase marked the constant communication between the inhabitants of Europe, Asia Minor, and North Africa. The second phase was the period where there was an interruption of this contact and which subsequently produced a different ‘development’ among these people. This took place in Europe mostly in the southwest and northeast of Pyrenees, where academics saw a burst of paleolithic art in these regions. Yet, there is no solid proof to state the exact beginning period of art. As per author Max Raphael ‘weapons represented in cave paintings in Dordogne and Cantabria, and the neolithic Egyptian pottery indicate that wood painting and carving must have existed during the early paleolithic era.’ Unfortunately because of the perishable nature of these materials used, we lost that art forever. (Max Raphael -Prehistoric Cave Paintings )
Cave paintings are distinguished by the color pigments applied on the walls, floors, or ceilings on ancient rock shelters. There are two types of color pigmentation used on these caves. There is the monochrome cave painting which is entirely made of one color which is usually black. And there is the polychrome cave painting which consists of two or more colors. One example of polychrome cave painting is the sublime multi-colored images of bison on the ceiling of Altamira cave or the Chamber of the Bulls at Lascaux depicting the majestic aurochs.
Distinctive Features of Prehistoric Cave Paintings
Some key features of cave paintings are the monochrome(Chauvet) and polychrome images (Altamira) of animals such as bison, horses, ibexes, and oxen. These animals were usually anthropomorphized, whereby several human body parts (distinctive supernatural beings) merged with the animals. There are also handprints, and frequent abstract motifs like diamonds, double helix, grid patterns, dots, starbursts, and curved lines.
Understanding Prehistoric Cave Paintings
It is important to keep our ego at bay when we tend to interpret ancient historical findings and artifacts. For instance, it is important to consider several aspects while viewing and understanding of cave paintings. One such factor is to bear in mind the material used for producing the cave art. Second, there is the notion of looking at cave art in a restricted perspective, for example, we tend to ‘isolate animals’ instead of seeing them as a group. We need to understand in what context they were drawn and in regard to the kind of environment they were part of.
As Max Rapahel clearly explained it through an example taken at La Pasiega cave painting, for instance, he noted that stags were shown as dominating species over other animals in the paintings. Another example is at Les Combarelles, where horses were repeatedly represented as dominating and hostile compared to the bison and bulls.
Below we have compiled a list of some of the top prehistoric cave paintings around the world:
1. La Pasiega Cave, Spain
2. Chauvet Cave, France
3. Lascaux Cave, France
4. Blombos Cave, South Africa
5. Altamira Cave Paintings, Spain
6. Fumane Cave, Italy
7. Bhimbetka Rock shelters, India
8. Cave of El Castillo, Spain
9. Pettakere cave, Indonesia
10. Magura Cave, Bulgaria
11. Cueva de Las Manos, Argentina
12. Caves of Arcy-sur-Cure, France
If you’re into cave paintings, then check out: Prehistoric Cave Paintings and Shamanism