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Flashcards in Prehistoric Art History for Dummies Deck (20)
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Timeline and Characteristics of Paleolithic Period

  • Old Stone Age
  • hunter gatherer societies
  • 90,000 years after the great ice age (120,000BC)

  • lasted roughly from 40,000 B.C. to 8,000 B.C




Charasterists of Paleolithic Art

  • Earliest surviving art is from this period
  • Art is deep in the bowels of caves, mostly located in Southern France and northern Spain
    • Paintings of woolly mammoths, wholly rhinos, and aurochs are the most accurate images we have of these extinct species.

  • Initially researchers believed cave art was connected to hunting (sympathetic magic, kind of like voodoo), however, many paintings depict inedible predators like panthers, lions, and hyenas

    • Now paintings beleived to be shaministic 




Basic History of Tools

  • Earliest form of human got onto their feet about 4 million years ago
  • Stones with sharpened edges, ruff-flaked stones used for cutting meat and pelts appeared in east-central Africa (about 2 million years later)
  • Hand ax (about 1,300,000 B.C.)
  • Spear (about “1,000,000 B.C.).
  • Bow and arrow (around 10,000 B.C)




Shamans in Cave Art

  • Prehistoric hunter-gatherers probably praticed shamanistic magic similar to  societies from Africa to Siberia and North America
  • Shamans were visionary and sometimes an 'artist'

  •  Shamans could “beam up” into the spirit world to talk to the souls of beasts where they can learn from animal spirits how to fix imbalances in nature.

  • Some used natural hallucinogen and depicted journeys with images of humans and animals entwining and even merging




Prehistoric Sculpture (Types)

Two Types of Sculpture

  1. statuettes - small statues
  2. reliefs - sculptor outlines an image in stone or wood, and then carves out the background so that the image projects above it.




Prehistoric art impliments

  • Feathers, fur, moss, chewed sticks, and their fingers as paintbrushes.
  • “spray-painted” large areas by blowing colored powders through hollowed-out reeds or bones.
  • sharp stones or charcoal sticks were used to incise outlines of pictures into cave walls




Cave Art Painting Techniques

  •  Color - Ground minerals (red and yellow ochre, manganese, and hematite) into powders which were applied directly to the damp limestone walls 
  • Texture - Cave painters sometimes used bumps and crevices on cave walls to emphasize an animal’s contours:
    • ie a bulge for a belly 
    • an indentation for an eye
    • Bump for a hump.
    • knob in a wall for a paw, etc


Woman of Willendorf (~25,000 years ago)

  • Pudgy 4-1/2-inch-high figure carved out of limestone.
  • Wasn’t an individual, but a type/symbol for fertility/abundance
  • Same female type is found in many prehistoric cultures around the world
  • A woman might have held the statuette


Bird-Headed Man with Bison and Rhinoceros

  • ~20,000 years old
  • Discovered in 1940 in Lascaux in Dordogne, France

  • may depic shaman's phycadelic journey

    • Trainee shamans had to undergo ceremonial fake deaths, as well as food and sleep deprivation

  • In 19th-century Siberia, shamans used a so-called “world pole” as a portal to different worlds.

    • These poles commonly were topped with a bird


Chararacheristics of Neolithic Era

  • New Stone Age
  • Argicultural age
  • Land warmed up as glaciers melted, and man was able to farm, domesticate animals, improve his stone tools, and build permanent settlements.
  • Began in the warm southern climes and migrated northward in the wake of the retreating glaciers.
  • Mankind fell into a creative slump that lasted about 6,000 years, but improved as architects and built structures to last.



  • cha-tal hoo-yook"; it means "forked mound"
  • One of the oldest New Stone Age settlements
  • Anatolia (modern Turkey)
  • 6500 B.C. to 5650 B.C.
  • Truly peaceful
  • Mastered textiles, basketry, simple pottery
  • Lived in rectangular, mud-brick homes with doors in the roof


Çatalhöyük Architecture and Art

  • Built rectangular, mud-brick homes with doors in the roofs
  • Had two or more elevated, multipurpose platforms, one of which was always painted red
    • red platform served as a table, workbench, bed, and bier (a bed for corpses)
  • Some homes included paintings and sculptures

    • Paintings were mainly of stick figure men hunting

    • Women in sculpture like Woman of Willendorf




Skara Brae

  • A later Neolithic community (around 3000 B.C.)
  • northerly Orkney Islands of Scotland
  • Homes included a fireplace, stone tanks, built-in stone furniture (beds, chairs, tables, and shelves).
  • The only art we have from Skara Brae are the simple designs carved into the stone pottery and some of the stone beds.


The Carnac Stones

  • Scattered fields of menhirs throughout Brittany in western France between 4250 B.C. and 3750 B.C
  • 3,000 menhirs stand in 2-mile-long rows
  • Gradually grow as you move from east to west.
  • Stones on the eastern side are 3 feet high, while on the western end they’re over 13 feet high.
  • The alignment corresponds to the rising and setting sun. Today, no oneknows how this prehistoric observatory worked



huge stones

Brittany and England

some megalith structures served as tombs 

post-and-lintel system (the post part is made up of the uprights, and the lintel is the horizontal slab). 

one of man’s first architectural advances




  • Topless Megaliths
  • appear in two types of formations:
    • circular patterns known as cromlechs
    • cemetery-like rows called alignments.
      • they were not graves, but astronomical observatories and sites for sun worship





Stonehenge (location and constuction timeline)

  • Salisbury Plain of England
  • Built in 4 stages between 2550 B.C. and 1600 B.C


Stonehenge (Pourpose)

  • Once believed to be a Druid (Celtic priest) temple.
  • Now - believed to be a temple aligned with the movements of the sun.


Stonehenge (Bluestone)

  • Until 1500 B.C., a circle of bluestones stood between the sarsen stones and the horseshoe.
  • The only available bluestone comes from Wales, 150 miles away.
  • Stonehenge builders believed that bluestone possessed special properties, probably magical ones
  • In 1500 B.C., the last generation of Stonehenge builders moved the bluestones inside the horseshoe; researchers today have no idea why


Stonehenge (Construction)

  • 1,000-foot trench and embankment encircle a series of concentric circles and circular shapes
    • Continuious outer circle of 50 ton, 20-foot-high gray sandstones, called sarsen stones, topped by connecting lintels
    • Inner horseshoe of five sets of gray sandstone groups in a post-and-lintel arrangement .
    • Smoothed the inside faces of the stones
    • Tapered the posts at the top so that the bellies or midsections of the posts appear to bulge
    • Curved the outer lintels so each would form an arc, enhancing the circular appearance of the outer ring.
    • “drilled” holes in the lintels and cut cone-shaped pegs into the post that the posts and lintels would fit together snuggly in a mortise and tenon joint (like a set of Lincoln Logs).