Prehistoric Beginnings
Upon viewing the prehistoric cave paintings of Lascaux, France, Pablo Picasso remarked, "We have invented nothing."
Contemporary viewers of the Altamira Cave











The Ancient Greeks divided prehistory into three categories:
40,000 to 10,000 BCE
8000 to 2300 BCE











One of the most complete, and best preserved pre-human hominin skeletons
  • Found in 1974 in Ethiopia
  • Australopithicus afarensis
3.6 - 3 million year-old "Lucy"











Perhaps the earliest tool user?
Kenyanthropus platyops, "The flat-faced man of Kenya,"
a 3.2 - 3.5 million-year-old skull found in Lake Turkana in 1999











Prehistoric Human Migration











Paleolithic Era, "The Old Stone Age"
40,000 - 8,000 BCE

"Age of food gathering"
ca. 4,000,000 BCE
descendents of humans begin walking upright
ca. 3.5 - 2,000,000 BCE
earliest evidence of toolmaking
ca. 2,500,000 - 230,00 BCE
earliest cultures form
ca. 290,000 BCE
earliest known marks, "cupules," made by humans in cave in North Central India
ca. 70,000 - 8,000 BCE.
last Ice Age in Europe
Waterworn pebble resembling human face
Tools and ochre found in the Blombos Cave
Waterworn pebble resembling human face, South Africa, ca. 3,000,000 BCE.
Engraved ochre and bone tools, Blombos cave, South Africa, ca. 75,000 - 80,000 BCE.











ca. 50,000 BCE
earliest known works that we might call "art" made
tool kits become more complex
appearance of fully modern language
Aurignacian Culture (Eurasian) 38,000 - 29,000 BCE
ca. 30,000 BCE
earliest known sculptures and paintings in Europe
Gravettian Age (Europe) 29,000 - 22,000 BCE
ca. 28,000 BCE
earliest known cave paintings
humans begin practicing ritual burial
Magdalenian Culture (Europe) 19,000 - 12,000 BCE
Human with feline head
animal facing left from the Apollo 11 Cave
Human with feline head, Germany,
ca. 30,000 - 28,000 BCE.
Mammoth ivory. 11 5/8 " high.
Animal facing left from the Apollo 11 Cave, Namibia,
ca. 23,000 BCE.











Early humans used a surprising range of materials and techniques
while creating what we now call "prehistoric art."
Bison from Altamira
They drew and painted
Bison from the Altamira Cave, Spain,
ca. 15,000 - 10,000 BCE.











utilizing both abstract and realistic imagery.
Bison from La Madeleine cave, France, ca. 12,000 BCE.
Reindeer horn, length 4".











A study by Genevieve von Petzinger (University of Victoria) has identified 26 symbols that repeatedly appear as prehistoric art over 25,000 years over four continents. Von Petzinger and Professor April Nowell studied the ancient symbols from 146 different sites in France and were able to compare the signs over much a larger scale than had previously been attempted.
The 26 specific signs may provide some evidence that a common graphic code was being used by ancient humans after their arrival into Europe from Africa. At least 19 symbols were used frequently (circles, lines, triangles and spirals) over many thousands of years which could indicate consistent abstract ideas such as life and death.











They often stamped
Palm dots, Chauvet Cave, ca. 30,000 - 28,000 BCE.











and stenciled.
Hands at El Castillo
The smudged red disk below the hand stencils is the oldest cave art yet dated, at 40,800 years old. Located in El Castillo cave in the Cantabria region of northern Spain, this image might have been created by Neanderthals.











They adorned their bodies with non-utilitarian articles.
Brassempouy Woman
Woman of Brassempouy
Woman from Brassempouy, France, ca. 25,000 - 20,000 BCE.
Ivory, height 1 1/4".











They made subtractive sculpture,
Woman holding bison horn
Woman holding a bison horn, from Laussel, France, ca. 25,000 - 20,000 BCE.











additive sculpture,
Two Bison from the cave at Le Tuc d"Audoubert
Two Bison reliefs from the cave at Le Tuc d'Audoubert, France. ca. 15,000 - 10,000 BCE.











and (eventually), they also made installation art!
Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England, ca. 2550 - 1600 BCE.











Prehistoric Cave Sites

Paleolithic Cave Sites










Wounded Bison

Wounded Bison, detail of a painted ceiling in the cave at Altamira, Spain, ca. 13,000 - 11,000 BCE.











Don Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola and Daughter Maria











Axial Gallery

Axial Gallery, Altamira Cave, c. 13,000 - 10,000 BCE.






















Mammoth Bone House

Modern reconstruction of Mammoth Bone House
based on sites in Russia & Ukraine c. 12,000 - 18,000 years ago











Discovered on September 12, 1940 by Marcel Ravidat, Jacques Marsal, Georges Agnel, and Simon Coencas











Hall of Bulls, Lascaux

Hall of the Bulls in the cave at Lascaux Cave, France, ca. 16,000 - 14,000 BCE.











Left wall of the Hall of the Bulls in the cave at Lascaux Cave, France, ca. 16,000 - 14,000 BCE.
Largest bull 11' 6" long.