The importance of art throughout the Paleolithic era, the Neolithic era, and the Bronze age.

Written and compiled by Nate Barton and Chehab Kaakarli

The Paleolithic Era
By: Chehab Kaakarli

As the first people began to inhabit the earth, they unintentionally left behind artifacts that could help us better understand them. Many historians don’t identify the Paleolithic era as “real history” because the Paleolithic people did not write. However, “they left a picture that is worth a thousand words”. Paleolithic art began about 32,000 years ago and ended around 11,000 years ago when humans began to settle down.

Paleolithic people only created 2 types of art. It was either stationary or portable since they were hunters and gathers. The portable art was small and could be taken with them while traveling. The material was carved out of stone, bone, antlers, or even modern clay. Most portable art meant something figuratively or spiritually. Most portable art depicted either humans or animals.
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Stationary art was a significant artifact used to help us gather a detailed understanding of what life actually was like. It depicts life, with hunting and rituals in which they took a part. Animals were always drawn in great detail while humans were always drawn as stick figures showing us an insight on how they viewed the hunt and the animals. Stationary art was mostly cave paintings or carved in. Paint was made from minerals, ochres, burnt bone meal and charcoal mixed into mediums of water, blood, animal fats and tree saps. Cave paintings were mostly found deep into the cave rather than being near the front where most people settled for days.
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The Venus of Willendorf found in Australia has been called the most famous art sculpture from the Paleolithic era. It depicts a woman’s body in the heavy pregnancy stage. Historians call these figurines “Venus” because women are the child bearers and therefore valued at the god-like status. The pictures to the right show women heavy in pregnancy showing the value they had for them during the child-bearing stage. Women were valued more in Paleolithic society than in modern society, in some ways. The reason supporting this claim is the lack of artifacts portraying men.


The Lascaux caves contain about 2,000 images dating to 17,000 years ago depicting life of the Paleolithic
people- explaining their hunting and spiritual life through the form of art. The picture above shows a man dead who has been run over and trampled to death by an ox. This art highlights the violent aspect of hunting as the animal defeats man.

As we look to what was happening in the Paleolithic era, we know that it was during the time in which the ice from the ice age was melting creating cooler climates and land bridges across the globe to make travel easier. The Paleolithic people were strictly hunters and gatherers, and most of their art depicted that showing the fatalities on their hunts and their success. Another idea is that their art displayed the fertility of woman and displaying them at a god-like status during the pregnancy stage. All of this art is considered to be an attempt to gain control by the Stone Age people over the land, whether it was spiritually or physically. But the main reason that Paleolithic art is so important that it shows a giant leap in human thinking and different ideas.

The Neolithic era and Bronze age
By: Nate Barton

With the discovery of agriculture came a time in history called the Neolithic or “New stone age.” During this time, developments in art increased substantially because of the sudden expansion of specialization within individual communities. Furthermore, the sophistication of religion and civilization as a whole provided inspiration for what we now know as art.

Neolithic art consisted primarily of pottery. Perhaps unbeknownst the women who created them, as pottery developed, it began to take on the
A Mesopotamian artifact from Dimini, a village in Thessaly.

personalities of its creators. While many of the artifacts from the Neolithic were, in fact, tools and weapons, pottery was perhaps the most artistic. Shown is an example of Neolithic pottery from Dimini, a village in Thessaly.

Another common example of Neolithic art was the statue. Specifically, many cultures would create statues towards a universal “Mother Goddess” which highlighted the importance of fertility. Examples include the seated Mother goddess at the right from an Anatolian settlement, and the seated male figure found in a Sammarran site. Both exemplify the ancient set of principles based heavily on sexuality and fertility. Similar to much of the art from that time period, it provides an important look into how that society viewed life and child-bearing.

While many of the earlier mentioned artifacts were created to be smaller in size, some of the most durable works of art are what some historians refer to as “megalithic monuments.” Perhaps most notable, Stonehenge is a perfect example of such an immense structure. However, lesser known structures such as France’s Cairn of Barnanez and Malta’s Hagar Qim represent the sophistication needed to move heavy objects or create such massive structures. From an art standpoint, however, these megalithic monuments highlight the ability of humanity to create for themselves giant displays of symbolism and power. It also highlighted a shift from mobile art to stationary art, which holds parallel to the lifestyles of its creators. Furthermore, tombs in particular were created in strikingly artistic and unique ways.

The following paragraphs summarize individual societies’ art forms throughout the Neolithic leading into the Bronze Age.

A painting of Queen Nefertiti

Ancient Egypt: The most obvious art form of ancient egypt was the pyramids. The pyramids were not merely buildings, but rather massive tombs with pictures and inscriptions displayed throughout. They were monuments to the Pharaohs for whom they were built. In some ways, they are similar to the Megalithic Monuments in terms of size and symbolic significance. The Egyptians also developed a form of painting that could be displayed on flat rock surfaces, as well as quite detailed sculptures of Pharaohs, gods, and nobles. Most of the art related directly to the afterlife or individual gods.

Mesopotamia: Early Mesopotamians created few large, stone artifacts because of its unavailability. Rather, they invented pottery and created a vast number of sculptures. In fact, they valued pottery to such a degree that it became a form of currency. The Mesopotamians created large and elaborate temples, as well as jewelry and mosaics.

A circular jade disc widely believed to be a ritual object.

Ancient China: The Chinese also produced their own form of geometrically shaped pottery (they never used a
pottery wheel), as well as artifacts made from bronze and jade. They were also quite famous for their use of porcelain, including the 12,000 life-sized ceramic soldiers found in the burial site of Emperor Shihuang. They also developed a form of painting using silk and paper, some of which has been preserved. With the emergence of Buddhism came a variety of sculptures and monuments in the name of religion. Interestingly, many circular jade discs were found dating back to the Neolithic era, believed to be ritual objects. Shown to the right, they were important to the culture and differed based on region.

Indus River Valley: In terms of sculpture, the inhabitants of the Indus River Valley were quite advanced. Seen at the right is a bronze statuette
"The dancing girl found in the excavated Mojenjo-Daro

titled, “The dancing girl.” The following is a quote from Sir John Marshall- the man responsible for the excavation of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro.

“… When I first saw them I found it difficult to believe that they were prehistoric; they seemed to completely upset all established ideas about early art, and culture. Modeling such as this was unknown in the ancient world up to the Hellenistic age of Greece, and I thought, therefore, that some mistake must surely have been made; that these figures had found their way into levels some 3000 years older than those to which they properly belonged. … Now, in thesestatuettes, it is justthis anatomical truth which is so startling; that makes us wonder whether, in this all-important matter, Greek artistry could possibly have anticipated by the sculptors of a far-off age on the banks of the Indus.”

Notably, the inhabitants of Mohenjo-Daro created a vast number of sculptures of animals. Whether these were for religious purposes is widely unknown. On top of sculpture, citizens of the Indus River Valley produced gold jewelry and pottery.

Art, with its humble beginnings of pottery and stone figurines, has proven itself to be one of the most useful tools in uncovering what life was like in the ancient world. More so than anything besides writing, art is a direct look into the minds of people from the paleolithic era, neolithic era, and bronze age. Furthermore, it set forth a pattern of human experimentation and expression- an aspect of society that has defined and permeated into the present age.

A: Art has influenced, uh, art.
G:Many artifacts depended heavily on inspiration from the surrounding area. Art differed greatly based on location.
M:The same technologies used to advance art was subsequently used to advance military- such as stone and metal
S: Art is perhaps the greatest form of expression. It creates an open environment and a social way of life.
P: Art gives great insight into the political structure and overall values of ancient people.
R: Art is inspired directly by abstract thinking, much of which derives directly from religion.
I:Art, at its core, is a stimulator of intellect. It challenges conventional thinking and forces people to think artistically.
T:Art is more dependent on technology than technology is dependent on art. However, some artifacts served both practical purposes and artistic purposes.
E:Art is only possible through specialization, and is sometimes aided through funding.

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