You may look at the years for this unit and think wow, these works must be really primitive and simple, but this is anything but the case. The works that we'll be describing in this guide are advanced for their time (and even now in the modern age) and required lots of time and artistry to create. The artists of the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods didn't have access to the same materials that we do nowadays, and instead used media, or materials, that were readily available, like natural pigments, stone, and bones. Also, people had very little time to create art before the specialization of labor, which is when people were assigned specific jobs and responsibilities. This makes the artistic works of this unit all the more impressive (cue the round of applause 👏).
As briefly mentioned before, Unit 1 is split into two periods—Paleolithic (30,000 BCE-8,000 BCE) and Neolithic (8,000 BCE-3,000 BCE). These ranges can be even longer depending on geographical location, but these are the generally accepted years by most art historians.
During the Paleolithic period, people were hunter-gathers, meaning that they did not grow food, and instead hunted and foraged or their daily meals. This lifestyle is reflected in the art of the time, since many of the works have to do with animals and their relationship with humans. Because people during this time were always on the move either finding food or protecting themselves from being eaten, many of their works are small and easily portable. These two details support the idea that prehistoric art was influenced by human's active lifestyles.
Image Courtesy of Students of Historyttps://www.studentsofhistory.com/comparing-the-paleolithic-neolithic-eras
Then came the Neolithic period and everything began to change. People began settling into organized settlements (usually near rivers), and this proximity allowed the specialization of labor. Living a sedentary life also allowed for the beginning of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent and the domestication of animals, which was a lot safer and reliable than being a hunter-gatherer.
Religion is said to have had a large influence on the art created in this unit. Most prehistoric people practiced shamanism, a religion where followers believe that people called shamans can interact with the spirit world. These spirits were called for many reasons, including to heal those who were sick, ensure a successful harvest (especially since these were predominantly agricultural societies), or give advice. Works in this unit, such as the Ambum Stone and Jade Cong, are believed to have had a religious or ritualistic purpose because of the worldwide practice of shamanism and their location.
While it is unknown why these early people created art, most artwork was designed to serve a purpose. A common theme in Prehistoric art is the presence of community and survival, ahese works continue to serve as evidence about the lives that walked this plant before us.
|Apollo 11 Stones
|Charcoal on stone
|Great Halls of Bulls, Lascaux Caves
|Pigment on rock
|Camelid Sacrum in the Shape of a Canine
|Running Horned Woman
|Tassili n'Ajjer, Algeria
|Pigment on rock
|Bushel With Ibex Motifs
|Wiltshire, United Kingdom
|The Ambum Stone
|Ambum Valley, Papua New Guinea
|Tlatilco Female Figurines
|Reef Islands, Solomon Islands