Art & Music around 30,000 BC

The Globe

Beginning at least 30 thousand years ago people made exquisitely crafted stone tools, some so delicately worked that even moderate use would ruin them--tools that must have been made in part simply for the pleasure of creating something beautiful. (Patterns in Prehistory)

The multiple ways in which Homo spaiens diverged physically and behaviorally from pre-sapiens forms of Homo in the period between about 300,000 years ago to 30,000 years ago are collectively referred to as the "Middle/Upper Paleolithic transition." This "transition" is visible in many radical changes, such as increased aesthetic expression in figurines, usually of bone or stone, beautiful wall paintings, and rock carvings, burial techniques, and objects used for personal adornment, and the appearance of articfact styles and trade in exotic items that bespeak the first manifestation of some sort of regional "ethinic" identity that exceeds by a wide margin the local band society--in short, changes that may reflect the "total restructuring" of social relationships. (Patterns in Prehistory)



Southwest Asia




Indus Valley





[The cave paintings at Altmmira, France] are now given dates between 34,000 and 12,000 years ago. Analysis shows that the colors were produced by mixing natural mineral pigments, such as ocher and manganese dioxide, with a binder (blood, urine, vegetable juice, or something similar), and that they were either brushed on with an implement made of animal hair or applied by making a kind of crayon from the pigments and lubricant. Some painting may also have been done by using a pipe to blow the powdered pigments on a surface prepared with animal fat. Many of these paintings were executed in the dark recesses of caves, by light provided by lamps made of stone bowls filled with animal fat, with a wick made of lichens, grass or juniper. (Patterns in Prehistory)

The enormous underground cavern, which was found on December 18, 1994, in a gorge near the town of Vallon-Pont-d'Arc in the Ardeche region, is studded with more than 300 vivid images of animals and human hands that experts believe were made some 20,000 years ago. In this great parade of beasts appear woolly-haired rhinos, bears, mammoths, oxen and other images from the end of the Paleolithic era, creatures large and small and variously drawn in yellow ochre, charcoal and hematite. The murals have surprised specialists because they also include a rare image of a red, slouching hyena and the era's first-ever recorded paintings of a panther and several owls. (Patterns in Prehistory)

Specialists say this ancient art gallery surpasses in size that of the famous caves of Lascaux, also in southern France, and Altamira, Spain, which are widely held to be western Europe's finest collection of Stone Age art. Archaeologists said they were thrilled not only by the number and the quality of the images but also by the discovery that the great underground site, sealed by fallen debris, appears to have been left undisturbed for thousands of years. They see this as tantamount to finding a time capsule full of hidden treasures. (76)

One remarkable find, they said, was the skull of a bear, placed on a large rock set in the middle of one gallery against a backdrop of bear paintings. (76)

The first hall they entered had only red paintings while in another hall all the murals were drawn in black. The known part of the cavern consists of four great halls, up to 70 yards long and 40 yards wide, which are connected by smaller galleries roughly five by four yards, according a report issued by the Ministry of Culture. The more than 300 paintings and engravings vary in size between two feet and 12 feet long. Some stand alone, while others are clustered in panels or painted with some cohesion, such as two rhinos head to head, as if in a fight. (76)

There were drawings that looked like an abacus: clusters of thick red dots, two inches or more in diameter. "We have found them in other grottoes, but we don't understand their symbolism," she said. Scientific tests have shown some of the masterfully drawn beasts discovered last December in the Chauvet--so named for Jean-Marie Chauvet, a government guard for prehistoric sites and a member of the exploration team--in the southeastern Ardeche to be at least 30,000 years old, making them the world's oldest known paintings. The Culture Ministry said French and British specialists had determined that charcoal pigments of two rhinoceroses and a bison were between 30,340 and 32,410 years old. (76)

The most alluring new find, according to Mr. Clottes, the leader of the exploration, is a black drawing of a composite creature with the head and the hump of a bison standing upright on human legs. The archaeologists call it, the Sorcerer. (76)

Tools and tool types of the Aurignacian culture displayed standardization. Over time, they included end scrapers for preparing animal skins and burins for engraving. Flint tools were made from blades of stone rather than flakes. Projectile points (for hunting) were made from antler, bone, and ivory. Among their significant innovations was the development of body ornamentation, including pierced shells, animal teeth, carved bone pendants, bracelets, and ivory beads. The sudden explosion of exquisite art found at the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc cave was certainly among their most striking achievements. (Before the Pharaohs)

From cave paintings to figurines, Cro-Magnon man expressed himself creatively, especially his interest in hunting and the essence of womanhood. Some cave paintings, thought to be a later endeavor of the Magdalenian period, are now proved to be thirty thousand years old. A newly discovered (1994) cave in Chauvet displays three hundred or more animal images on its walls. "Venus" figurines (small, fire-hardened clay idols of women), although predominant in Gravettian culture, have been found in all periods of Cro-Magnon culture all across Europe. (Before the Pharaohs)

Art was also used as an expression of respect for the deceased. Carved pendants, bracelets, and other grave goods accompany most skeletal remains. In a twenty-eight-thousand-year-old burial site in Russia, two youths and a sixty-year-old man were entombed and adorned with pendants, bracelets, and necklaces. Their burial clothes contained more than three thousand ivory beads, each bead of which took an hour to craft. Perfectly straight mammoth tusks were lying next to the juveniles, their natural curves straightened by boiling in water. However, not all the deceased were buried in such a lavish way. Some bodies were disposed of modestly, indicating a class structure and social hierarchy. Regardless of the scale, burial ceremony was a regular part of their culture. (Before the Pharaohs)

Spectacular items of artistic merit suggest a depth of culture and multifarious thought. Bone and stone plaques have been found with complex markings. One, in particular, is thought to be a lunar calendar. Other plaques have been interpreted as tally marks of hunting expeditions. One of the lesser-known, but more impressive, discoveries was that Cro-Magnon played music. Bone flutes, percussion instruments, and even xylophones have been found in some of the oldest Aurignacian sites, and have been dated up to thirty thousand years old. (Before the Pharaohs)

We are reminded, also, of the famous paleolithic figure of a naked female known as the Venus of Laussel, which was carved in basrelief on the wall of a rock shelter in southern France as the central figure of what was apparently a hunting shrine. (Primitive Mythology)

The caves were the sites of animal magic and of the men's rites. They are the underworld itself, the realm of the herds of the underworld, from which the herds of the upper world proceed and back to which they return. They are of the realm and substance of night, of darkness, and of the night sky, their animals being comparable to the stars, which are slain by the sun yet reappear. The mythologies of the animal masters and shamanism, the journey to the other world by way of a ceremonial burial, men's threshold rites, rebirth, and the masked dance inspired the liturgies of this brilliant age. the temple-caves of southern France and northern Spain a firm continuity can be recognized, uniting the Magdalenian with the Aurignacian, as though the intervening Solutrean had been but a passing episode. The animal forms of the mural art now are masterfully rendered in a powerful, painterly style, with fluent lines and rich coloration, through eyes that had looked at animals in a way that has not been known since, and by hands perfectly trained. This art was magic. And its herds are the herds of eternity, not of time - yet even more vividly real and alive than the animals of time, because their ever-living source. At Altamira the great bulls - which are almost breathing, they are so alive - are on the ceiling, reminding us of their nature; for they are stars. And so here they are, these heavenly herds, in the primal abyss of the night sky. For according to the logic of this sort of dream, this game of myth, where A is B and B is C, this cave is the timeless abyss of the night, and these paintings are the prototypes, Platonic Ideas, or master forms of those temporal herds of earth, which - together with the people - are to play the play of the animal master, the willing death, and the sacramental hunt. (Primitive Mythology)

British archaeologist Paul Devereux recently made a truly awesome discovery about Paleolithic caves. He has shown that more than just visual art and ritual was going on in these caves; music was also being played in them. Devereux studied the acoustical properties of Paleolithic caves that were used forty thousand to twelve thousand years ago. Key Paleolithic caves have various red ochre and black dots, lines, and symbols that many people have wondered about. Devereux discovered that these crude symbols mark the acoustical properties of stalactites and stalagmites, as if the stalactites and stalagmites are vaulted acoustical pipes, similar to a pipe organ. The marks indicate which stalactites and stalagmites to strike to produce various tones within the caves. Devereux calls these stalactites and stalagmites lithophones. (The Mayan Code)

Ivory artefacts are known to have been made throughout Europe and elsewhere more than 40,000 years ago, and complex figures such as a man with a lion's head carved from mammoth ivory has been carbon-dated at between 30,000 and 34,000 years old. (Uriel's Machine)

South America




North America