The Ancient Origins of Art
The oldest archaeological find known in the world that has been suggested to indicate a hominoid ability to recognize iconic resemblance (the visual similarity of two otherwise unrelated objects) is an object, or cobble, and appears to have been deposited in a cave by Australopithecus africanus almost 3 million years ago. The object is of a conspicuously reddish jasperite and has the natural form of a head, with distinctive ‘staring eyes’ and a ‘mouth’. (1)
Evidence of the use of pigments or paint for aesthetic purposes by hominids may well reach back to almost one million years ago - far predating the appearance of modern humans - Homo sapiens. At this point, hominids had developed numerous distinctive forms of cultural behaviour, various forms of symbolism, and early technologies.
The first evidence that hominids collected red mineral pigments, constituted by pieces of ochre and hematite which appear to have been carried into sites in South Africa (Wonderwork Cave) up to 800,000 or 900,000 years ago by Archaic H. sapiens, presents an intriguing sign of advancing symbolic skills. (2)
In a cave at Twin Rivers, near Lusaka, Zambia, archeologists have reported discovering over 300 fragments of pigments and paint grinding implements dated to be between 350,000 and 400,000 years old. (3)
One of the earliest forms of rock art, Acheulian-age petroglyphs (petroglyphs are figures that are made by removing the upper layers of the rock) appear in the Daraki-Chattan site Bhimbetka, India (Auditorium Cave), in the form of artificial markings known as cupules (scooped or dish-like circular indentations) and an engraved meandering line dated to be between 200,000 to 500,000 years old (Bednarik 1993a).
The site of Terra Amata at Nice, France furnished indications of the use of red ochre as early at 300,000 B.C. Further discoveries produced seventy-five bits of pigment ranging in color from yellow to brown, red and purple; most of them having traces of artificial abrasion and were clearly introduced to the site by the occupants (Homo erectus) since they do not occur naturally in the vicinity. (4)
At Hunsgi in southern India, an ochre pebble, faceted and with oblique striations - which was found in an Acheulian layer dating to between 200,000 and 300,000 years ago - seems to have been used as a crayon on rock a rock surface (Bednarik 1990).
A piece of red mineral, with vertical striations resulting from use and dated to date back to 250,000 B.C., was found in the Acheulian rock shelter of Becov, Czech Republic, which had been occupied by Homo erectus, the early modern human ancestor.
All of these discoveries indicate early humans used paint for aesthetic purposes and that art as symbolic thinking has played a vital role in human development.
The earliest Cave art does not come from Europe but comes from Australia but from South Australia and dates 42,000 years old. The second oldest cave art also comes from Australia and is 39,000 years old. This consists of a fragment of painted cave wall which was buried in sediments of that age. Since the sediments were younger than the fragment, this represents a minimum age for the art. (p. 35)
(1) Beads and the origins of symbolism, Robert G. Bednarik, 2000. (2) The First Idea, 2006 By Stanley I. Greenspan, Stuart Shanker, p.1713. (3) Journey Through the Ice Age by Paul G. Bahn and Jean Vertut. (4) Dr. Lawrence Barham, University of Bristol, UK - BBC News, Tuesday, 2 May, 2000. (5) Before writing, 1992, By Denise Schmandt-Besserat, p.158.
— MAFO : "The Ancient Origins of Art"
(from reprint: October 2010)
"Ancient Times" — mixed media — by MAFO