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Chapter Six. Art of Earliest Times. Much of our knowledge about the lives of early human beings comes from their art. Figure 6.2 Bison. Cave Painting. Altamira Caves (Santillana, Spain). c. 15,000 B.C.

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Chapter Six

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Chapter Six

Art of Earliest Times

Much of our knowledge about the lives of early human beings comes from their art

Figure 6.2

Bison. Cave Painting. Altamira Caves (Santillana, Spain). c. 15,000 B.C.

Before people could write they were painting and scratching pictures on the walls of shelters

Figure 6.3

Chinese Horse. Cave Painting. Lascaux Caves (Dordogne, France). c. 15,000 B.C.

Consider the following:

Certainly it would be reasonable to expect that the artworks produced by prehistoric people are primitive and crude, but are they?

Determining the Age

  • The earliest known works of art were made during an age that began 30,000 years ago

  • The age of artwork can be determined by:

    • Dating the surrounding rock

    • Radio carbon dating of organisms

Radio Carbon Dating

  • All living organisms maintain a set amount of radioactive carbon 14

Radio Carbon Dating

  • After the organism’s death the carbon 14 loses its radioactivity by a set amount

    • By measuring the amount left in charcoal or carbonized bone it is possible to determine the age

Paleolithic Period

  • Called the Old Stone Age

    • Period that lasted from 30,000 B.C. to 10,000 B.C

  • Earliest known works

    • Vivid, lifelike pictures of animals


  • Caves in Southern France

    • Well preserved and skillfully created

      • Caused great controversy among scholars upon discovery


  • Pigment created from:

    • Lumps of clay

    • Soft stone ground into a fine powder

    • Animal blood

    • Animal fat

  • Vivid in color


  • Pigment applied to walls using:

    • Fingers

    • Reeds

    • Bristle brushes


  • Ritual would bolster confidence and courage among the hunters

Survival and Discovery

  • Utensils, bones, and charcoal found at cave entrances suggests occupants took advantage of the daylight and ventilation

  • Ritual was performed in the more interior part of the cave (further from the entrance) as protection from the elements

Survival and Discovery

  • Prehistoric paintings at the caves of Lascaux and Altamira were accidental

    • Lascaux, France:


    • Altamira, Spain:


Skills of the Prehistoric Artists

  • Paintings were done in groups

    • Overlapping images to conserve space

  • Paintings averaged between 5 feet and 6.5 feet in length (large scale)

Skills of the Prehistoric Artists

  • Despite crude tools, prehistoric artists demonstrated a knowledge and affection for the animals they hunted

Prehistoric Builders

  • Move from cave dwelling to building shelters

    • Small communities

    • Introduction of farming/ herding civillizations

Standing Stone

  • Megalith structure:

    • Large monuments created from stone slabs

    • Found throughout Europe, India, and Asia

  • Remnants of primitive architecture


  • 2000 B.C. (present day England)

    • One large ring of stones with three progressively smaller rings within

  • Outer ring:

    • 30 original stones (nearly half still standing)

    • Nearly 100 feet in diameter

    • Tallest stone is 17 feet high


  • Post and Lintel Construction:

    • Massive posts support crossbeams or lintels


The Fertile Crescent

  • An area of rich soil and access to water:

    • Tigris and Euphrates Rivers

    • Mediterranean Sea

    • Persian Gulf

  • Mesopotamia

Major Civilizations of Mesopotamia

  • Sumerian

  • Babylonian

  • Assyrian

  • Persian

Sumerian Civilization

  • 4500 B.C. people settled in Mesopotamia

    • The region they settled was called Sumer

  • Ziggurats:

    • A shrine; stepped mountain made of brick covered earth

      • Stood at the center of the city-state

Sumerian Innovations

  • Developed a form of writing called cuneiform

  • Cuneiform:

    • Writing with wedge-shaped characters

Babylonian Civilization

  • King Hammurabi:

    • Published a code of laws to unify the legal practice of his empire

      • Laws published on a public stele (inscribed stone pillar)

Assyrian Civilization

  • Crafted impressive visual records in the form of stone relief sculptures

    • Decorated the walls of the royal palaces

    • Commemorated the power of the king

Persian Empire

  • Persian architecture found its highest accomplishment in palaces

    • For example Persepolis

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