On February 28th, 2017 we learned about

Significant sophistication seen in carved and painted Stone Age slabs

A European painter has been turning heads recently thanks to their innovative use of materials, and how those materials influence the overall composition of their imagery. Animals are rendered not in fine lines, but in bold spots, carved out of stone slabs. The shape of the stone ‘canvases’ play a role too, with natural edges being incorporated as part of the subjects’ silhouettes. There’s enough to these depictions of natural landscapes to arouse our curiosity, but sadly, we’ll never be able to fully know the motivations of the artist, or artists, because they’ve been dead for 38,000 years.

Life drawing in limestone

We do know that whatever drove the creation of these images, their creator worked hard to make them. Making these images probably required first rubbing down the surface of the ‘canvas’ rock to flatten and smooth it out. Then a second tool was used to scrape out each individual cupule, or divot-like mark that made up the various animals depicted. This was as many as 60 individual cupules in a single animal, and more likely took hours to complete. That might not sound like the biggest commitment, but considering this task was being accomplished in a time of hunting and gathering, it shows a decent commitment to a project that didn’t directly increase your lifespan.

Aside from the technical demands of carving in stone, there is a degree of sophistication worth noting in these depictions. As described above, an image of a mammoth is carved in profile, with the top edge of the stone slab being used as the animal’s silhouette, complete with shoulder hump and convex neck curve. The cupules don’t seem to be used as random ornament, but are instead used on animals’ bodies, possibly to suggest the texture of their fur. These techniques were also found at multiple archaeological sites from around the same time period, suggesting that they were not flukes, but part of the local cultural repertoire. Basically, art was enough a part of these people’s lives that they spent time and energy to develop it.

Space for art in the stone age

In a world saturated with images and iconography, that might not seem that unusual. However, the Aurignacian people who created these images hadn’t really been out of Africa for terribly long by the time these caves paintings were created. Their world was one of rocky shelters among snow, ice and glaciers, and so there were probably many aspects of basic survival to be concerned about. Nonetheless, involved cave paintings, carvings, bead and clay figurines point to an early need or desire to create and record the world as the¬†Aurignacian’s saw it, which in an era of selfies and customization, is actually pretty relatable after all.

Source: Prehistoric Pointillism? Long Before Seurat, Ancient Artists Chiseled Mammoths Out of Dots by Lorraine Boissoneault, Smithsonian

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