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paleolithic artifacts article

World History

Cave Paintings, Figurines and Arrows: The Art of the Paleolithic

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This is a photograph of an ancient cave painting of animals including deer, horses and ox. Middle Paleolithic Art: Tools, weapons, and beads

Speaking of earlier, let's go back to the Middle Paleolithic period, between 300,000 and 50,000 years ago. Creative humans back then used the red clay called ochre for decorative body painting. They made tools and weapons such as bows and arrows. Tools are not usually considered to be forms of art. Yet they do require cognitive abilities to craft and brainpower to improve upon designs.

Other early Paleolithic art was composed of geometric patterns, represented in the image below from Blombos Cave in South Africa. This period also saw the creation of beads made from shells, painted and strung into necklaces and other decorations. These types of art were created at least 75,000

years ago, about 30,000 years before the cave paintings. Therefore, it would seem that we must push back the time period for this cognitive revolution to include artistic humans living in the Middle Paleolithic. It was not just for the cave painters that existed during the Upper Paleolithic period.

What about human species that developed tools long before this period, even before the evolution of Homo sapiens about 250,000 to 300,000 years ago? Would their accomplishments require us to extend the cognitive revolution back even further? Or what about early humans who made musical instruments or performed dances as part of rituals? These are certainly forms of artistic expression that would require symbolic thought and perhaps early language abilities.

Or how about other human species such as Neanderthals who had a complex social structure and buried their dead? In fact, recent finds in Spain show that Neanderthals created cave paintings and made beads out of shells from about 120,000 to 64,000 years ago. This was long before the arrival of Homo sapiens in this region. Therefore, could the cognitive revolution actually include other human species?

There are also forms of human culture and evidence that these humans had some cognitive abilities. Some of these art forms might not be as advanced as those of the Upper Paleolithic. Still, they represent symbolic thinking.


So, should our definition of what we consider to be art change to include these earliest forms of human creation? There is certainly much evidence to suggest that technological innovations like tool-making should be considered a form of art. It takes much skill and creativity to shape tools and weapons. Those that were then hafted (attached) to longer sticks to use as spears, or were attached to arrows and shot from bows, were especially complex at the time.

As humans shared these skills through the process of collective learning, tools gradually improved and new innovations were discovered. This, in turn, might indicate that cognitive abilities began long before the creation of cave paintings. That means the roots of humans' cognitive thinking could extend much further back than 40,000 or 50,000 years ago.

DMU Timestamp: September 03, 2020 08:33

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