Why are there no dogs pictured in paleolithic cave paintings?

Why are there no dogs pictured in paleolithic cave paintings?

It has been described before that the occurence of reindeers is strangely low, while this was the main food source. But isn't it even stranger for dogs? Recent genetic research suggest that dogs were domesticated a lot earlier than any other animal, which makes sense for hunters. The distinction between dog and wolf may become blurred over long times - and while e.g. chauvet cave pictures a wide variety of wild predators, even owls and hyenas, no wolf is pictured either.

Were dogs/wolves too 'ordinary' to be portrayed here, more so than reindeer?

There are lots of dogs in paleolithic cave paintings. For example:

Dogs can be used for hunting in the woods, like deer, but for hunting large herds in open areas like bison, they are not useful and are more of a nuisance than an aid. (Notice that in the above image the quarry is a deer, not an accident.) A recent journal article on the subject:

New evidence for Upper Palaeolithic small domestic dogs in South-Western Europe

From a technical taxonomical point of view, it is impossible to have domestic dogs depicted in a Paleolithic cave painting, simply because domestication of plants and animals is one of the features of the Neolithic.

So by definition, any art that depicts a canid is either Neolithic, or it is showing a wild relative such as a wolf.

Now this is a bit overly pedantic, as domestication of dogs appears to have begun in the northern parts of Asia well before the dates we associate with the full-blown Neolithic. However, the dates are close enough that it can still be a useful rule-of-thumb (considering the Paleolithic lasted upwards of 2.6 million years, and we are quibbling here over the last 5-20 thousand years of it)

I believe most answers above are pretty good, so I don't have much more to add.

On the missing part (in above answers) to cave art, from the question: "… paleolithic cave paintings?" and OP's comments asking for images.

This is from Aurignacian period (considered Upper Paleolithic), the specific site is Cave of Pont d'Arc (UNESCO). Wikipedia's entry on this site.

Description: Decorated cave of Pont d'Arc, known as Grotte Chauvet-Pont d'Arc, Ardèche

Some info on the Paleolithic dog.

2,000+ Years of Dogs in Art, From Ancient Mosaics to Instagram Selfies

Our four-legged friends are often the muses for art of all kinds. Of these creatures, dogs are one of the most popular subjects for painting, sculpture, and photography. Throughout art history, they&rsquove made appearances with members of the aristocracy, self-portraits with famous creatives, and been immortalized as balloons&mdashand that&rsquos just a small fraction of the dog art that exists between the past and today. Canines are living symbols of protection, loyalty, and unconditional love, so it&rsquos easy to see why they&rsquove been such a long and colorful part of our visual history.

Prehistoric Cave Painting (40,000-10,000 BCE)

Polychrome cave painting of
a bison head. (c.15,000 BCE)
Altamira cave main gallery.

Big Horn Rhino (25-30,000 BCE)
Cave painting from Chauvet Cave.
See: Oldest Stone Age Art.

What is Cave Painting? Definition, Characteristics

In prehistoric art, the term "cave painting" encompasses any parietal art which involves the application of colour pigments on the walls, floors or ceilings of ancient rock shelters. A monochrome cave painting is a picture made with only one colour (usually black) - see, for instance, the monochrome images at Chauvet. A polychrome cave painting consists of two or more colours, as exemplified by the glorious multi-coloured images of bison on the ceiling at Altamira, or the magnificent aurochs in the Chamber of the Bulls at Lascaux. In contrast, the term "cave drawing" refers (strictly speaking) only to an engraved drawing - that is, one made by cutting lines in the rock surface with a flint or stone tool, rather than one made by drawing lines with charcoal or manganese.

At present we have no firm idea when cave painting first began. One theory links the evolution of Stone Age art to the arrival of anatomically modern humans in Europe during the period of the Upper Paleolithic. According to this theory, the development of cave art coincided with the displacement of Neanderthal man by anatomically modern man, starting around 40,000 BCE. Indeed, it was from about this date that the earliest rock art began to emerge in caves and rock shelters around the world, but especially throughout the Franco-Cantabrian region. Painting comes first, followed by mobiliary art, as exemplified by the portable Venus figurines like the Venus of Hohle Fels (38-33,000 BCE). Broadly speaking, cave painting techniques and materials improved across the board, century by century. Thus we see the monochrome paintings of Aurignacian culture (40-25,000 BCE) give way to the polychrome art of the Gravettian (25-20,000 BCE), leading to the apogee of cave painting which is traditionally acknowledged to occur during the Magdalenian era (c.15-10,000 BCE) at Lascaux, Altamira, Font de Gaume and Les Combarelles. During the Late Magdalenian, the Ice Age ended and a period of global warming led to the destruction of the Magdalenian reindeer habitat, along with its culture and its cave art. For more about the evolution of cave painting, and how it fits into Stone Age culture, see: Prehistoric Art Timeline (from 2.5 million BCE).

For details of arts & culture
during the Pleistocene and
Holocene epochs, see:
Irish Stone Age Art
Mainly megalithic architecture
Irish Bronze Age Art
Celtic metalwork, tomb-building
Irish Iron Age Art
La Tene Celtic culture, sculpture

The majority of prehistoric cave paintings were figurative and 99 percent of these were of animals. At first, Stone Age artists painted predator animals (lions, rhinoceroses, sabre-toothed felines, bears) almost as often as game animals like bison and reindeer, but from the Solutrean era onwards imagery was dominated by game animals. Pictures of humans were an exceptionally rare occurrence, and were usually highly stylized and far less naturalistic than the animal figures. Abstract imagery (signs, symbols and other geometric markings) was also common, and actually comprises the oldest type of Paleolithic art found in caves of the Late Stone Age, as shown by recent dating results on paintings at El Castillo and Altamira. In addition to figure painting and abstract imagery, prehistoric caves are also heavily decorated with painted hand stencils rock art, most of which - according to recent research by Dean Snow of Pennsylvania State University - were made by females, but men and children were also involved. Some of the best examples of this form of painting are the Gargas Cave Hand Stencils (Haute-Garonne), the Panel of Hand Stencils at Chauvet (Ardeche), and the prints throughout the Cueva de las Manos (Cave of the Hands) in Argentina.

Cave Painting in Three Stages

Typically a polychrome cave painting was created in three basic stages, which might vary significantly according to the experience and cultural maturity of the artist, the nature and contours of the rock surface, the strength and type of light, and the raw materials available. Take a picture of a bison, for instance. First, the outline and basic features of the animal are drawn on the cave wall, either by scoring the surface of the rock with a sharpened stone, or by applying a black outline using charcoal or manganese. Second, the completed drawing of the animal would be coloured or filled in with red ochre or other pigments. Third, the edges of the animal's body would be shaded with black or another pigment to increase its three-dimensionality. Alternatively, depending on whether or not the contour of the cave wall made it necessary, additional engraving or even sculpting would be applied to boost volume and relief.

Where are Most Cave Paintings Located?

The most spectacular examples of this rock art have been discovered in southwestern France and northern Spain - hence it is sometimes referred to as Franco-Cantabrian cave art - where archeologists have found some 350 caves containing Upper Paleolithic artworks. The largest cave clusters are in the Dordogne (Lascaux, Cussac, Laussel, Font-de-Gaume, Les Combarelles, Rouffignac), and around Monte Castillo in the district of Puente Viesgo, Cantabria, but other magnificently decorated caves have been found in various parts of the world - including South Africa, Argentina, India, China, Australia and elsewhere.

Which are the Oldest Cave Paintings?

At present, the earliest art in prehistoric caves, whose dates of origin have been authenticated by radiocarbon dating, consists of abstract signs - namely a red dot and a hand print - found among the El Castillo cave paintings in Cantabria, Spain. These images have been dated to at least 39,000 BCE and 35,500 BCE respectively, making them the oldest art of their type from a cave in Europe.

However, in 2014 in Indonesia, on the other side of the world, archeologists used Uranium-Thorium dating techniques to date hand stencils among the images found at Leang Timpuseng Cave, Sulawesi, to 37,900 BCE. (Animal paintings at the site were dated to 33,400 BCE.) Next in age comes the Fumane Cave pictures (c.35,000 BCE), then two claviform symbols found at Altamira, dated 34,000 BCE. The next oldest paintings are those in Chauvet Cave, situated in the Ardeche region of France. They were discovered in 1994, and date from 30,000 BCE. The most productive periods of cave art were the Gravettian and Magdalenian cultures, dating from 25,000-20,000 BCE and 15,000-10,000 BCE respectively.

Note: Many caves contain evidence of repeated painting, sometimes extending over tens of thousands of years. Therefore some of these "cave studios" may be found to be older than originally thought. This is exactly what happened at Altamira, where the main body of art is Magdalenian (c.15,000 BCE), but recent tests showed that one particular abstract image dates back to the Aurignacian era about 34,000 BCE.

What Sort of Pictures were Painted in Prehistoric Caves?

Stone Age artists created a variety of figurative and abstract images. The naturalistic pictures mostly depict hunting scenes, or arrangements of animals - usually bison, horses, reindeer, cattle, aurochs, and mammoths, although a wide variety of other creatures were depicted, such as: lions, musk ox, ass, saiga, chamois, wolf, fox, hare, otter, hyena, seals, fish, reptiles, birds and other creatures also appear. But there is no landscape painting in prehistoric art, or even any elements of landscape depicted, like mountains or rivers. Images of humans appear only very rarely: even then, they are human-like, rather than realistically human. Good examples include: the 'wounded men' at Cougnac the painting of the man with the bird-like head, in the "Shaft of the Dead Man" at Lascaux and the engraved painting of the "Sorcerer" at the Trois-Freres Cave.

As mentioned, abstract art is also common. Cave walls abound with a variety of dots, lines, signs and symbols. For example, researchers from the University of Victoria on Vancouver island have identified more than 20 signs, all painted in the same style, that appear time and again in different shelters. Some of them are made with simple brushstrokes, like circles, semi-circles, triangles and straight lines others are slightly more complex. In addition to those just mentioned, they include: aviforms, claviforms, cordiforms, crosshatches, cruciforms, flabelliforms, negative hands, open angles, ovals, pectiforms, penniforms, positive hands, quadrangles, peniforms, scalariforms, serpentiforms, spirals, tectiforms, zigzags, and others.

What Painting Methods Did Stone Age Artists Use?

Using sea-shells as paint containers and working by candlelight, or occasionally weak sunlight, prehistoric artists employed a wide variety of painting methods. Initially, they painted with their fingers before switching to lumpy pigment crayons, pads of moss, or brushes made of animal hair or vegetable fibre. They also employed more sophisticated spray painting techniques using reeds or specially hollowed bones. A hollowed out bone of a bird, stained with red ochre, dating to about 16,000 BCE, was found at Altamira cave, revealing that Solutrean-Magdalenian artists must have been proficient at spray painting by this date. Stone Age painters also used foreshortening and chiaroscuro techniques. Each era introduced new cave painting methods, and caves decorated over many generations exhibit numerous styles - at Lascaux, for instance, archeologists have identified over a dozen different painting styles.

How Did Prehistoric Artists Obtain Their Paint Colours?

All colour pigments used in cave painting were sourced locally, mostly from mineral sources found in the earth. Stone Age painters employed several different combinations of materials to make coloured paints. Clay ochre provided three basic colours: numerous varieties of red, plus yellow and brown. For black colour, artists used either manganese dioxide or charcoal. After grinding the pigments to fine powder, artists mixed the powder with cave water (typically high in calcium carbonate) animal fats, vegetable juice, blood or urine to help it stick to the rock surface. They also used extenders like biotite and feldspar, or ground quartz and calcium phosphate (obtained from crushed, heated animal bone). It's conceivable that artists were familiar with pigments through body painting and face painting - arts which they were practicing for millennia before they started decorating caves. For more details about the type of colour pigments used in Stone Age cave painting, see: Prehistoric Colour Palette.

Did Stone Age Painters Make Preliminary Sketches?

Sometimes. In the cave of La Vache, archeologists found a layer of charcoal underneath the black pigment of the paintings, indicating that a preparatory sketch had been made prior to the application of paint. More often, the silhouette of the animal, together with its basic features, was engraved in the rock with a flint, then painted with pigment.

What Was the Purpose of These Cave Paintings?

We don't know exactly. Initially, most paleoanthropologists thought that this type of ancient art was purely decorative. However, detailed archeological evidence shows that painted caves were not inhabited by ordinary people. Instead, they were inhabited only by a small group of artists, or others involved in the cave's ceremonial activities and role. As a result, it is now thought that cave painting was created by shamans for ceremonial reasons - perhaps in connection with social, supernatural or religious rituals. There is no clear pattern in the iconography used, so at present most theories as to the precise meaning or function of Stone Age cave painting are mere guesswork.

Do Prehistoric Caves Contain Sculpture?

Yes. Several beautiful examples of relief sculpture have survived. They include the Venus of Laussel (c.23,000 BCE), one of six bas-relief sculptures engraved on a large block of limestone, in the Laussel rock shelter, near Lascaux and also the famous Tuc d'Audoubert Bison relief carvings (c.13,500 BCE) made from unfired clay that were found at Ariege, in France. Experts believe that prehistoric sculpture might have been as common as mural painting, except that most of it has crumbled or perished.

Famous Caves Containing Stone Age Paintings

Europe (France and Spain)

Franco-Cantabrian prehistoric cave painting is probably more famous than any other tradition of parietal art around the world. Here are the region's most famous decorated caves.

Cave of El Castillo (39,000 BCE) Puente Viesgo, Spain
Discovered in the complex of the Caves of Monte Castillo, this rock shelter contains the oldest art of any cave in Europe, except for the La Ferrassie Cave Cupules (c.60,000 BCE).

Fumane Cave (c.35,000 BCE)
Italian prehistoric cave inhabited by Aurignacian reindeer hunters, in which a number of primitive animal cave paintings were found on fragments of a collapsed cave wall.

Abri Castanet (c.35,000 BCE)
Dordogne rock shelter containing engraved images of female genitalia and male phalluses, along with ochre paintings of horses and some abstract symbols.

Altamira Cave (first phase 34,000 BCE) Antillana del Mar, Spain
A club-shaped symbol found in the most remote part of the cave was U/Th dated to 34,000 BCE.

Chauvet Cave (c.30,000 BCE) Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, France
Discovered in 1994, Chauvet cave - a showcase of Aurignacian Art - comprises two main parts. In the first, most pictures are red, while in the second, the animals are mostly black. The most striking images are the Horse Panel and the Panel of Lions and Rhinoceroses. See Chauvet Cave Paintings.

Grotte des Deux-Ouvertures (Cave of Two Openings)
(c.28,000-26,000 BCE) Ardeche Gorge, near Chauvet Cave
Noted for its rock engravings of animals including more than 50 figures of bulls and mammoths.

Cosquer Cave (c.25,000 BCE), Marseille Coast, France
Discovered by the deep-sea diver Henri Cosquer in 1985, and dating from 25,000 BCE, the entrance to Cosquer cave is situated over 100 feet below sea level. Its paintings include hand stencils, Placard-type signs, charcoal drawings and about 100 polychrome paintings of horses and other animals. For details, see: Cosquer Cave Paintings.

Cussac Cave (c.25,000 BCE) Le Buisson-de-Cadouin, Dordogne, France
Discovered in 2000, its painted engravings of bison, horses and mammoths, are similar to the Gravettian art in the Quercy caves of Roucadour and Pech Merle.

Pech-Merle Cave (c.25,000 BCE) Cabrerets, Midi-Pyrenees, France
Discovered in 1922, Pech-Merle is famous for its dramatic polychrome Dappled Horses, painted in charcoal and ochre on limestone, and its Placard-type signs. For details, see: Pech-Merle Cave Paintings.

Roucadour Cave Art (c.24,000 BCE)
Similar to imagery discovered at Pech Merle and Cougnac, Roucadour's art consists of hand stencils, engravings and abstract symbols.

Cougnac Cave (first phase, c.23,000 BCE) Gourdon, Lot, France
The cave features Gravettian era animal paintings and strange Placard-type signs.

La Pileta Cave (c.18,000 BCE) Andalucia, Spain
Rock paintings of animals, including a rare drawing of a fish, plus a large variety of abstract signs.

Le Placard Cave (c.17,500 BCE) La Rochefoucauld, France
Renowned for its undeciphered Aviform signs almost identical to those discovered at Cosquer, Pech-Merle and Cougnac.

Cosquer Cave (second phase 17,000-15,000 BCE) Marseilles, France
A second period of Solutrean painting occurred at Cosquer during the Late Solutrean.

Lascaux Cave (c.17,000-13,000 BCE) Montignac, Dordogne, France
Discovered in 1940, Lascaux contains Solutrean art as well as Magdalenian. The cave complex has seven decorated chambers with over 2000 painted images, including the awesome Hall of the Bulls which, despite its name, features mostly horses as well as the male aurochs (wild cattle) from which its name derives. Contains renowned pictures like the Great Black Bull, the Unicorn and the Bird Man. For details, see: Lascaux Cave Paintings.

Cave of La Pasiega (c.16,000 BCE) Cuevas de El Castillo, Cantabria, Spain
Discovered in 1911, the cave of La Pasiega consists of one main gallery, some 80 yards in length, with openings to several secondary galleries. Its cave art consists of over 700 painted images (roughly 100 deer, 80 horses, 30 ibex, 30 cattle, along with reindeer, mammoth, birds and fish) including numerous abstract symbols (ideomorphs) and engravings.

Altamira Cave (final phase c.15,000 BCE) Antillana del Mar, Cantabria, Spain
Discovered in 1879 and dating from 15,000 BCE, Altamira is considered by archeologists and art historians to be "the Sistine Chapel of Paleolithic Art", due to its high quality large scale wall paintings. The ceiling of its so-called polychrome chamber - decorated with 30 large animal pictures (mostly bison) vividly executed in red and black pigment - is regarded as the crowning artistic achievement of Magdalenian art within the Franco-Cantabrian region. For details, see: Altamira Cave Paintings.

Font de Gaume Cave (14,000 BCE) Dordogne, France
The first cache of prehistoric cave painting to be discovered in the Perigord, the cave is renowned for its frieze of five bison, enhanced with sophisticated shading around the body.

Tito Bustillo Cave (14,000 BCE) Asturias, Spain
Noted for its Gallery of the Horses, its cave paintings rank alongside those of El Castillo, Altamira and the Cave of La Pasiega (16,000 BCE) as important examples of Paleolithic culture on the Iberian peninsula..

Cougnac Cave Paintings (second phase, 14,000 BCE) Gourdon, Lot, France
Its Magdalenian artworks include a stunning image of a red ibex, deftly rendered so that the flowstone on the wall suggests hair hanging from its belly, and some unique human-type figures.

Rouffignac Cave Mammoths (c.14,000-12,000 BCE) Rouffignac, Dordogne
Contains the largest complex of underground passages in the Perigord. Decorations include over 250 engravings and monochrome drawings. Subjects include bison, mammoths, horses, and woolly rhinoceroses, plus a number of abstract symbols.

La Marche Cave (c.13,000 BCE) Lussac-les-Chateaux, France
Discovered in 1937, archeologists were stunned to find a series of painted engravings of human heads and faces, some with details of clothes depicted. Authenticated by the French authorities, but experts remain skeptical about the dating of its paintings.

Niaux Cave (13,000-11,000 BCE) Foix, Haute-Pyrenees, France
One of the most important galleries of Magdalenian art after Lascaux and Font-de-Gaume. Famous for its Stone Age footprints, its unique picture of a weasel, and other high quality cave paintings.

Trois Freres Cave (13,000-12,000 BCE) Haute-Pyrenees, France
World famous for the painted engraving of a human-like figure known as the "Sorcerer", with the features of different animals. Understood to depict a shaman.

Les Combarelles Cave (12,000 BCE) Dordogne, France
Another major site of Magdalenian art, it boasts some 600𤴐 highly naturalistic drawings of animals, along with a collection of more than 50 anthropomorphic figures, plus a quantity of tectiforms.

Important painted caves in Europe, outside France and Spain, include.

Fumane Cave Paintings (35,000 BCE) Lessini Hills, Verona, Italy
Crude figurative pictures of animals and a human-like figure. Represents the oldest art in Italy and the oldest figure painting in the world.

Coliboaia Cave Art (30,000 BCE) Apuseni Natural Park, Romania.
Discovered in 2009, it includes some eight charcoal drawings - now radiocarbon dated - and at least one engraving. Constitutes the oldest cave art in Central or South-East Europe.

Kapova Cave Paintings (12,500 BCE) Shulgan-Tash Preserve, Russia.
Located in Bashkortostan - a Russian Republic lying between the Volga and the Ural mountains, the cave contains red ochre paintings of mammoths and horses, as well as numerous abstract symbols and hand stencils. Represents the oldest cave painting in Russia.

Other very old caves containing Stone Age parietal art are found in central India, South Africa, Australia, Namibia, Argentina and South-East Asia, among other locations around the world.

The Auditorium and Daraki-Chattan Caves in Madhya Pradesh, Central India, have recently been discovered to contain the world's oldest known cupule art, in the form of cup-like indentations (petroglyphs) incised on hard quartzite, dating back into the Lower Paleolithic era. For details and photos, see: Bhimbetka Petroglyphs and Daraki-Chattan Cave Art.

Another important site of Stone Age art in India is the Bhimbetka Rock Shelters, a UN World Heritage Site which was known to Indian archeologists as early as 1888. Located in the district of Madhya Pradesh south of Bhopal at the edge of the Vindhyachal hills, this site contains the earliest traces of human life in India, although its rock art is only about 9,000 years old. Featuring a host of different scenes (eg. hunting, dancing, horse riding, elephant riders, animal fights, domestic scenes and the like), and subjects (eg. bisons, tigers, lions, wild boar, elephants, antelopes dogs, lizards, crocodiles), all commonly painted in red and white, with occasional use of green and yellow, the pictures span most of the Mesolithic and Neolithic eras of the Stone Age, as well as the Bronze, Iron and later Medieval ages.

African art includes some of the world's most ancient art, including cave paintings. The oldest African rock art was discovered in the Blombos Caves, not far from Capetown. It features a number of geometric engravings on two small pieces of ochre coloured stone, and dates from 70,000 BCE. For details and photos, please see: Blombos Cave Art.

A series of geometric and animal images engraved and painted on seven stone slabs have been found at the Apollo 11 Caves in the Huns Mountains, dating to 25,500 BCE. (For details, see: Apollo 11 Cave Stones.) Unusually, the images - painted in charcoal, red ochre and white - were painted onto the slabs at a different location and then brought to the cave. Experts consider them an early exemplar of Tribal art.

Australian aborigines were responsible for all the continent's paleolithic art. The oldest traditions of Aboriginal art - believed to date from 30,000 BCE, although this is unconfirmed - include Kimberley rock art (Western Australia), Ubirr rock art, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, and Burrup Peninsula rock art (Pilbara). Later works include the Bradshaw paintings (now called Gwion art), dating from 15,500 BCE, at Kimberley, Western Australia. However, the oldest art in Australia is the Nawarla Gabarnmang Rock Shelter charcoal drawing, which was carbon-dated to 26,000 BCE.

The Cueva de las Manos (Cave of the Hands) at Rio de las Pinturas is home to the oldest cave painting in the Americas. The oldest murals, dating from the era of Mesolithic art, about 9,000 BCE, comprise dozens of hand stencils painted in red, black and white pigments. Later images include paintings of animals, hunting scenes and complex abstract patterns (ideomorphs).

Studies of their cave art, sculptures and decorated bones, pebbles and rocks by archeologists, and other scholars, have revealed an art that developed from simplistic early forms to detailed, accurate figures over several chronological periods. The artists began by drawing simple outlines of small animals. Later, they drew larger animals and filled in the animals' bodies with red or black paint and finally, they drew massive animals, washed over the animals' bodies with earthy tones of brown or black, and detailed the animals' anatomy with thick shading.

Rock paintings have also been found in Thailand (in the Petchabun Range of Central Thailand, and in Nakorn Sawan Province), Malaysia (at Gua Tambun in Perak, and in the Painted Cave at Niah Caves National Park) and Indonesia, in the Sangkulirang area of Kalimantan. Recent finds in the Maros-Pangkep caves on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, show that some of the oldest art on the planet was created by migrants island-hopping towards Australia. These finds suggest that modern man's artistic ability did not emerge "coincidentally" across the world, but was developed before he left Africa, around 80,000 BCE. See also: Oceanic art.

• For more about paintings in the rock shelters of the Upper Paleolithic, see: Visual Arts Encyclopedia.

Photos: Prehistoric Rock Art Hints at Elite Class on Kisar

Hundreds of prehistoric rock paintings have been found on the tiny Indonesian island of Kisar, in the Maluku Islands group, north of the large island of Timor, by archaeologists from the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia, and the University of Gadjah Mada at Yogyakarta in Indonesia.

Kisar covers an area of only about 80 square kilometers (30 square miles) but the researchers found more than 30 rock art sites and hundreds of individual rock paintings in limestone terraces on the island.

Upper Paleolithic

Aurochs on a cave painting inLascaux, France

The oldest undisputed works of figurative art were found in the Schwäbische Alb, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. The earliest of these, the Venus figurine known as the Venus of Hohle Fels and the Löwenmensch figurine date to some 40,000 years ago.

Further depictional art from the Upper Palaeolithic period (broadly 40,000 to 10,000 years ago) includes cave painting (e.g., those at Chauvet, Altamira, Pech Merle, and Lascaux) and portable art: Venus figurines like the Venus of Willendorf, as well as animal carvings like the Swimming Reindeer, Wolverine pendant of Les Eyzies, and several of the objects known asbâtons de commandement.

Image of a horse from the Lascaux caves.

Cave paintings from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi were in 2014 found to be 40,000 years old, a similar date to the oldest European cave art, which may suggest an older common origin for this type of art, perhaps in Africa. [7]

Monumental open air art in Europe from this period include Côa Valley and Mazouco in Portugal, Domingo García and Siega Verde in Spain, and Fornols-Haut in France.

A cave at Turobong in South Korea containing human remains has been found to contain carved deer bones and depictions of deer that may be as much as 40,000 years old. [8] Petroglyphs of deer or reindeer found at Sokchang-ri may also date to the Upper Paleolithic. Pot shards in a style reminiscent of early Japanese work have been found at Kosan-ri on Jeju island, which, due to lower sea levels at the time, would have been accessible from Japan. [9]

The oldest petroglyphs are dated to approximately the Mesolithic and late Upper Paleolithic boundary, about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. The earliest undisputed African rock art dates back about 10,000 years. The first naturalistic paintings of humans found in Africa date back about 8,000 years apparently originating in the Nile River valley, spread as far west as Mali about 10,000 years ago. Noted sites containing early art include Tassili n’Ajjer in southern Algeria, Tadrart Acacus in Libya (A Unesco World Heritage site), and the Tibesti Mountains in northern Chad. [10] Rock carvings at the Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa have been dated to this age. [11] Contentious dates as far back as 29,000 years have been obtained at a site in Tanzania. A site at the Apollo 11 Cave complex in Namibia has been dated to 27,000 years.

  • Scientists have suggested that caves with good acoustics were chosen for art
  • These caves were then used for religious ceremonies, which included chanting
  • Researchers found that paintings are located at points where sound is amplified
  • Now experts are calling for more research to be conducted in Paleolithic caves

Published: 19:30 BST, 29 June 2017 | Updated: 20:14 BST, 29 June 2017

The secret reason of why Paleolithic men and women decorated caves with elaborate paintings may have finally been revealed by scientists.

Experts have suggested that the caves with the best acoustics may have been chosen for ancient artwork depicting hunting scenes and cultural practices.

This is so these caves could be used during ancient religious ceremonies, which often included chanting and singing.

The secret reason why Paleolithic men and women decorated caves with elaborate paintings may have finally been revealed by scientists. Pictured is a Paleolithic painting from Le Portel in Ariège, France


Experts have suggested that the caves with the best acoustics may have been chosen for ancient artwork depicting hunting scenes and cultural practices.

This is so these caves could be used during ancient religious ceremonies, which often included chanting and singing.

Evidence for this theory comes from previous research which studied three ancient caves in France.

Researchers from the University of Paris studied ancient paintings of horses, bison and mammoths in the caves of Niaux and Le Portel in Ariège, southern France.

They found that the most acoustically resonant place in a cave - where sounds linger or reverberate the most - was often the place where Paleolithic paintings were located.

And when the most-resonant spot was located in a very narrow passageway too difficult for painting, red marks are often found, as if they had been marked for their acoustic qualities.

This correlation of paintings and music provides 'the best evidence for the ritualistic meanings of the paintings and of the use of the adorned caves,' said Iegor Reznikoff, who conducted the research.

Researchers have previously found evidence of this theory, when they revealed that a number of Paleolithic paintings are located at points in caves where sound can be best amplified.

Now scientists are calling for more research to be conducted in Paleolithic caves across the world to provide more evidence for this theory.

To date, the exact purpose of Paleolithic cave paintings has been left unknown.

Some evidence suggests that these ancient works of art are more than mere decorations.

Cave paintings may have played a role in Paleolithic man's religious rituals.

One popular theory is that painters of the Paleolithic era chose the places where they made art based on their acoustics.

Evidence for this theory comes from previous research which studied three ancient caves in France.

Researchers from the University of Paris studied ancient paintings of horses, bison and mammoths in the caves of Niaux and Le Portel in Ariège, in the south of France.

They found that the most acoustically resonant place in a cave - where sounds linger or reverberate the most - was often the place where Paleolithic paintings were located.

And when the most-resonant spot was located in a very narrow passageway too difficult for painting, red marks are often found, as if they had been marked for their acoustic qualities.

This correlation of paintings and music provides 'the best evidence for the ritualistic meanings of the paintings and of the use of the adorned caves,' said Iegor Reznikoff, who conducted the research.

David Lubman, an acoustic scientist and fellow of the Acoustical Society of America, has now reexamined the link between ancient paintings and sound resonance.

The Strange Truth About The People Who Painted Cave Art

For decades, archaeologists thought that the paintings made by prehistoric people were done by men. However, new evidence strongly suggests that it was actually women who did the cave paintings. In addition, the cave painters were very good at correct anatomical details—better than most classically trained painters and even modern natural history artists.

The Whole Bushel

The oldest cave paintings in the world are about 40,800 years old and were found in 1908 in the Cave of El Castillo, in Northern Spain. Another major discovery happened in 1994 when Chauvet Cave was discovered in Southern France. It contains some of the most detailed and well-preserved cave art dating back to 28,000󈞊,000 B.C. Most of the paintings contain pictures of wildlife and often of men hunting animals like bison and deer. The general thought behind the meanings of the paintings is that they were made as a way to somehow influence or improve a hunt, although no one really knows for sure.

Since most of the depictions were of hunting and of animals, the general thought was that it had a masculine feel to it. If it was women doing the paintings, she may have been more inclined to paint other things. However, new research seems to indicate that the drawings were in fact made by women.

Dean Snow of Pennsylvania State University measured the hand sizes of the painters in eight different caves in Spain and France. They know the size of the hand because that is how the artist signed their work. They placed their palm on the wall of the cave and blew red dye, leaving a perfect impression of their hand for archaeologists to look at thousands and thousands of years later. When doing the measurements, they determined that 24 of 32 handprints were women.

This theory is backed up with other research about the time and dedication it took to make the paintings. For example, most amateurs would not be able to paint something as good as some cave paintings. In fact, some of the depictions were better than more modern artists. When four-footed animals walk, they walk in a pattern called the “foot-fall formula,” which goes left-rear, left-fore, right-rear, right-fore. In an examination of 39 paintings they found that 52 percent of 39 paintings had the animals anatomically correct for the foot-fall formula.

That number may not sound like a lot, but artists before 1880 only got it right 16.5 percent of the time—not even Leonardo da Vinci got it right. In 1880, Eadweard Muybridge’s famous Horse in Motion picture was made public and for the first time there was definitive proof as to how horses ran. Even after artists knew for sure how horses ran, they only got it right 42 percent of the time. The cave painter’s accuracy rate was even better than natural history museums.

Not only were cave people aware of how the animals ran, but they were able to depict that artistically. This indicates that they spent time studying and putting effort into their paintings for them it was part of their survival. Match that with the prehistoric humans’ constant need to hunt—having a man sit out on a hunt could possibly lead to devastating results for the entire tribe. However, having a non-hunter do the paintings would be incredibly advantageous.

The Origin of the World’s Art: Prehistoric Cave Painting

Prehistoric cave paintings are among the world’s first-known and least-understood works of art. At least two hundred painted caves, some dating to as early as 30,000 BCE, have been found throughout the Pyrenees regions of southern France and northern Spain. The paintings primarily depict animals but also include occasional human forms, a variety of non-representational symbols, human handprints, and engravings. In all cases, their meanings remain elusive. The usual tools of the art historian’s inquiry – written documentation, knowledge of the social and political climate of the period, and other art and artifacts to use as comparison – do not exist for prehistoric, illiterate societies or are extremely scarce and similarly not understood.[ 1] Furthermore, scholars are still debating the reason for the onset of the human instinct to make art. What changed in the course of human history that led to the creation of these caves and works like the Venus of Willendorf (c. 28,000-25,000 BCE), when previously no art seems to have been created? What function did cave art serve in prehistoric society? Many theories have been suggested, along with several different methods of interpreting the evidence at hand, but a consensus has yet to be reached in over a century of study.[ 2]

Part of the reason for the difficulty in interpreting cave paintings is the fact that scholars still know relatively little about the prehistoric societies responsible for them. Excavations in the regions where the majority of European painted caves are located have turned up important archaeological materials including tools, hunting implements, small-scale sculpture, burial arrangements, and animal remains, but only a certain amount can be inferred from these findings and little can be proved with any degree of certainty. Since the images recorded on cave walls are closest things we have to surviving records or narratives from these pre-literate societies, scholars run into something of a catch-twenty-two when attempting to interpret them because narratives and records usually inform most art historical interpretations.[ 3] Some researchers have attempted to fill in gaps in the knowledge base about the place of cave art in prehistoric French and Spanish societies by drawing analogies with tribes like those in Australia who still produce cave art today, while others have argued that there is absolutely no reason to assume that such paintings serve the same or similar functions cross culturally.[ 4] However, comparisons drawn from the archaeological record can at least provide tantalising possibilities to explore, even if many will prove difficult to conclusively prove or disprove.

‘The Chinese Horse’ at Lascaux

Like most other aspects of prehistoric European culture, the precise nature of the religious practice of the tribes who practiced cave painting remains a mystery, yet it is highly probably that these practices and beliefs were closely tied to the function of cave art. Some potential interpretations take the view that cave art was important for its existence and content, while others assert that its primary significance was in the ritual act of painting or engraving it. It is frequently suggested that the animal images may have related to some sort of hunting magic. Hunting was critical to early humans’ survival, and animal art in caves has often been interpreted as an attempt to influence the success of the hunt, exert power over animals that were simultaneously dangerous to early humans and vital to their existence, or to increase the fertility of herds in the wild. Images that seem to have been clawed or gouged with spears support the former two ideas, while a pregnant-looking horse painting in the Lascaux cave supports the latter. Such imagery has also been interpreted as depictions of shamanic rituals, tools in the conversion of shamans into and out of animal forms, or representations of experiences during shamanic or other ritual trances. An image of a half-man half-stag creature from the Les Trois-Frères cave in France seems to support this hypothesis.[ 5] The variety of non-representational symbols and handprints found in some caves have at times also thought to have been involved in coming of age or initiation rituals.[ 6] Finally, it is possible that cave art served as a kind of record of the mythologies and histories of tribes, their rituals, and their beliefs before writing could serve that purpose. The figural imagery may have recorded a narrative, while the abstract symbols could have indicated records of a more symbolic nature.

Lascaux Cave Paintings

Part of the reason that so many suggestions have been made but none have gained widespread acceptance is the fact that little firm evidence exists off which to build a solid argument, but part of it is also the fact that prehistoric European cave art is at once very consistent and quite dissimilar. While scholars have been able to identify patterns in the types of animals depicted, their typical configurations, locations in caves, and so forth, many anomalies are still quite inexplicable. Examples of the more confusing occurrences include similar figures repeatedly painted or engraved over each other, enormous animal forms found deep in the far reaches of the Lascaux cave, decorated cave walls with claw and spear marks, the underwater Cosquer cave decorated with images of marine life, a painted chamber in the Chauvet cave also containing bear skulls and bones in a shrine-like setting, a part-human part-animal figure at Les Trois-Frères, and similar hybrids elsewhere.[ 7] Other elements like hand prints, outlined hand shapes, and abstract symbols, which appear in more than one cave, are even less understood.[ 8] Although the bulk of known cave paintings are consistent enough in most ways that some scholars have hypothesised about the existence of some sort of “school” or tradition of painting instruction that would account for the similarities in images made thousands of years apart, there is still a high degree of variation in the stylistic attributes of the images.[ 9] The colours, scale, perspective, shading or lack of, naturalism, and detail in many cave paintings vary from simple, monochromatic line drawings to complex, three-dimensional images rendered naturalistically and in several colours. These variations and exceptions to known patterns are difficult to account for because each seems to suggest a completely different interpretation, and the lack of a firm theory about the meaning of the patterns makes it extremely difficult to understand the significance of any particular deviation.

One question that was once a point of extreme contention but has since been resolved is the age of the cave paintings. Initially, scholars tried to date the caves stylistically, meaning that they attempted to assign dates to works of art based on their similarities and differences in comparison to other works. This is a common practice in art history, but it is typically used when some objects have already been firmly dated using other means, so that other objects compared to them can be placed in an already solid timeline. Before the advent of radiocarbon dating, there were no objects firmly dated, so all proposed dates were speculative and often, on dubious ground. In the study of prehistory, most scholarship was once dominated by the idea that evolution explained everything – that tools and hunting implements became more sophisticated throughout time and that the most naturalistic cave paintings must be younger than the more abstracted ones. This theory was abandoned when advances in the scientific dating of objects produced a more reliable set of results that often completely disagreed with the results of dating via an evolutionary methodology. Also, in the realm of art history, the advent of formalism and abstract art has gone very far to do away with the assumption that naturalism is the end goal of all art and artists, opening up the possibility that ancient artists may have chosen to paint non-mimetically at times and mimetically at others.[ 10]

We may never know the full story of how and why prehistoric humans painted so many powerful images inside caves, but their mystery should certainly continue to be of interest to art lovers and historians far into the future. In fact, as art continues to reinvent itself, as it has consistently done throughout history, the question of exactly where art comes from and why it has become such a universal element of the human experience should only become ever more relevant.

More On This.

Simek said one of the images is “a black charcoal pictograph from an East Tennessee cave showing a transformational animal with the head, body, and tail of a dog or cat and the curving talons of a bird. Transformation is depicted in prehistoric art in both open-air sites and in dark zone caves in Tennessee.”

He and his colleagues suspect that the open-air rock art and the cave art were connected as part of “an organized alteration of the landscape,” with the creators of the images mapping “their conceptual universe onto the natural world in which they lived.” This happened in three dimensions, with upper (celestial in nature), middle (plants and animals) and lower (darkness, death and danger) worlds matching content with where it was placed in the region.

Simek describes another image &quotof a bird was incised in wet mud banks deep inside Mud Glyph Cave in Tennessee. Mud, which is associated with the origin of the world by many Southeast native American peoples, was often used as a medium by prehistoric cave artists. This example is still plastic and therefore extremely fragile.”

Analysis of rock and cave art often employs non-destructive, high-tech tools, such as this high-resolution laser scanner operated by the RLS group in Chattanooga, Tenn. It precisely records the ancient art for conservation and analysis.

According to Simek, “Many of the images, like this black charcoal pictograph of a rayed circle from Dunbar Cave in Tennessee, can also be seen on portable religious objects found in temple mounds and other prehistoric religious contexts.”

Scorpions, with their painful stings, appear to have been part of the Native American vision of the “lower world.” At this extensive site, scorpion images were found in deep caves and not in the upper “celestial” area. In this case, an artist, or artists, produced the images by painting wet ashes onto the cave wall.

“These tiny turkey engravings from Tennessee were extremely difficult to photograph, since they are only a few centimeters long and composed of very shallow lines made with a fine pointed tool,” Alan Cressler, project photographer, told Discovery News.

“One of the best-known examples of Southeast cave art, these engravings of weapons and bird-human transformations form a complex composition in the dark zone of Devilstep Hollow Cave in Tennessee,” Simek said.

Co-author Sarah Sherwood of The University of the South, added, “Rock art sites are only one type of specialized activity site we see in the area we know that people came to the Plateau to find specific foods, including animals and plants (in fact, certain native plants were domesticated in the area more than 3,000 years ago) and to obtain non-food resources rock art was an integral part of how people conceived and used their landscapes.”

13. You can visit a scale replica of the Chauvet Cave paintings.

The world-famous Paleolithic cave paintings at Lascaux, not far from Pont d’Arc, were damaged by the exhalations of thousands of visitors after the cave was opened to the public in 1948. So, immediately after Chauvet Cave was discovered, scientists moved to protect the fragile paintings and closed it to the public now, only scholars are allowed in during brief windows of time. But that doesn’t mean you can’t see a simulation of the artwork up close. In 2015, a scale replica of the Chauvet Cave paintings, dubbed the Caverne du Pont d’Arc, opened near the site of the actual cave. Engineers and artists faithfully recreated not just the dazzling paintings, but also the temperature, dampness, murk, and funky smell of the original.