Photo from Pixabay
Prehistoric rock paintings are the most abundant evidence of how mankind took its first steps in the fields of art, knowledge, and culture. It is found in most countries around the world, from the tropics to the Arctic, and in a variety of places - from deep caves to mountain heights.
Millions of rock paintings and artistic motifs have already been discovered, and more are being discovered every year. This solid, long-lasting, collective monument of the past is the most obvious evidence today of how our distant ancestors developed complex social systems of communication.
Art, as such, did not arise suddenly. It developed gradually with the enrichment of human experience. By the time of the famous cave art in France and Spain, it is believed that artistic traditions were already well-developed, at least in Southern Africa, Lebanon, Eastern Europe, India, and Australia, and, no doubt, in many other regions.
When did people first manage to generalize reality? This question is interesting for art historians and archaeologists. Artistic creativity was considered a model of "useless" behavior, i.e. behavior that seems to be devoid of practical purpose. The oldest clear archaeological evidence of this is the use of ochre or red iron ore (hematite) - a red mineral dye collected and used by humans several hundred thousand years ago. These ancient people also collected crystals and patterned fossils, colorful and unusually shaped rhizomes. They distinguished ordinary, everyday objects from unusual and exotic. Apparently, they developed ideas about a world in which objects could be divided into different classes.
The oldest known cave painting was made in India two or three hundred thousand years ago. It consists of cup-shaped depressions and a winding line carved into the sandstone of the cave. At about the same time, simple linear signs were made on various portable objects (bone, teeth, tusks, and stones) found on prehistoric sites. Sets of assembled carved lines appear for the first time in Central and Eastern Europe; they acquire a certain order, which makes it possible to recognize individual motifs: curves, crosses, arcs, and sets of parallel lines.
This period was crucial for the development of human mental and cognitive abilities.
The period 80-40 thousand years ago is associated with the emergence of the modern type of intelligent man – the Cro-Magnon, and 35 thousand years ago, the last Ice Age period began a bright and rapid development of primitive society. This era is characterized by the completion of the formation of modern man. In contrast to the caves, large settlements (sites) have appeared. At the time of the Upper Paleolithic period, the emergence and flourishing of art reached its highest level.
These were images on the walls of caves, graphic drawings on pebbles and bones, sculptures in the form of statuettes carved from mammoth tusks, musical instruments in the form of flutes made of bone. The Upper Paleolithic is associated with galleries of drawings that are so vivid that some famous contemporary artists (such as Picasso) considered them perfect works of art and even saw them as a model of absolute originality of artistic expression.
Cave art is characterized by the oldest naturalistic images - prints of human hands, a series of straight and wavy parallel lines drawn by fingers on raw clay, Paleolithic engraving, paintings, bas-reliefs, and individual works of clay.
Cave painting of the homo-sapiens period is widely known in Europe. For the most part, these attractions are concentrated in southern France and northern Spain. These are the caves of Altamira, Lascaux, Lamut, Pair-non-Pair, Mas d'Azil, and others. Images of animals were found on the walls: bison, horses, and deer. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this era is the cultural unanimity that prevailed in the world at that time in all regions of the settlements. Despite the differences in tools, undoubtedly due to differences in the environment, cultural behavior was surprisingly stable. The use of ocher and a distinctly uniform set of geometric symbols attest to the existence of a universal artistic language among archaic homo sapiens.
Circled sculptures first appeared in Israel (about 250-300 thousand years ago), in the form of modified natural forms, then in Siberia and Central Europe (about 30-35 thousand years ago and only then in Western Europe. About 30,000 years ago, rock art was enriched by intricate carvings made with fingers on the soft surface of caves in Australia and Europe and stencils of palms in France. Finally, two-dimensional images of objects began to appear. The oldest specimens, created about 32,000 years ago, originated in France, followed by South African paintings of Namibia.
About 20,000 years ago, significant differences began to emerge between cultures. People in Western Europe began sophisticated traditions of ritual and decorative use in both sculptural and graphic arts. Some 15,000 years ago, this tradition led to the rise of such famous masterpieces as painting in the caves of Altamira (Spain) and Lascaux (France), as well as the appearance of thousands of skilfully carved figures of stone, tusks, bone, clay and other materials. It was a time of the most exquisite multi-coloured works of cave art, painted or embossed by a certain hand of master artisans. However, the development of graphic traditions in other regions was not easy.
In Asia, geometric art forms have evolved into refined systems, some of which were reminiscent of official records, others remind mnemonic emblems, and original texts designed to refresh memory.
Genevieve von Petzinger - a Canadian paleoanthropologist and rock art researcher studies the origin of symbols and graphic communication through the analysis of geometric signs of the Ice Age.
She emphasizes that the oldest graphic communication systems in the world - Sumerian cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphs, early Chinese writings - are all originated between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago. Their appearance was preceded by an earlier system of symbols and pictographs, where the meaning corresponded to the image. That is, the drawing of a bird represented a bird itself. Later, these pictograms became more stylized until they transformed into almost unrecognizable signs, and at the same time, a growing variety of symbols has been invented to convey other words in the language - pronouns, adverbs, adjectives.
Taking into account all the above-mentioned facts, Genevieve von Petzinger came to the conclusion that it seems unlikely that the geometric signs of the Ice Age in Europe and around the world served as real abstract written symbols. It is more likely that these early artists made calculations with such marks, as well as created a stylized representation of objects from the world around them.
That means that 5,000 years ago, people were already relying on something ancient, which origin goes back tens of thousands of years - on geometric signs from the Ice Age, found in Europe and far beyond its borders. In the depths of our collective history, someone first came up with the idea of leaving a graphic symbol, which forever changed the nature of our communication.