Physical Anthropology

Early Wildlife Art

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"Early Wildlife Art"
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In the history of art, the oldest documented subject matter is the natural surroundings of man. The first evidence of man making art was in the Upper Paleolithic era. This era spanned may thousand years, from about 30,000 BC to 9,000 BC. Within this time period, there is evidence of small potable, sculptural objects as well as paintings.

Imagine a herd of bison is nearby. A hunt is planned. Before the attack,the hunters go deep into the cave for a ceremonial ritual,preparing themselves for the kill. The bison is painted on the wall, and one by one the hunters draw their spears and aim in preparation for the chase.

The above scenario has become part of a general consensus among art historians. The belief is that these cave paintings were part of magical ceremonies that enabled a hunter to overwhelm his prey. This would give the hunter a sense of power over the animal because the victory had already been achieved. These ceremonies would also have allowed the hunters to cast spells on the animals, so the hunt would be easier. The natural contours of these cave walls are evident, but there are chips and chunks taken out by what appears to be the result of an object, like a spear, hitting the wall.

There are many ancient caves in which paintings are found. The most well known are in Lascaux, France and Altamira, Spain. What the cave paintings in this part of the world reveal is that man had a very well defined relationship with nature and tried to honor and respect that relationship.

The paintings found on the cave walls are deep within the caves, not close to the immediate living area near the front. The fact that they are not easily accessible indicates a degree of secrecy and mystery and supports the theory that these were ritualistic people. Both ceilings and walls are covered with depictions of bison, deer, mammoth, wolves and horses. They are shown in various scenarios, sometimes running in herds, sometimes alone, and sometimes impaled with a spear.

These paintings are very respectful of the animals depicted. The primitive artists made every attempt to represent nature exactly as they saw it. There are no recognizable backgrounds or landscapes, but very recognizable animals running, standing or being hunted. Definitive musculature and details in things like feathers won't appear for centuries yet, but this early art work certainly made its mark.

More about this author: Jean Ferrante Burke

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