Stone Slab from the Apollo 11 Cave, Namibia
Stone Slab from the Apollo 11 Cave, Namibia

Global Prehistory

The first topic in Art History must obviously begin with the first art of humanity.

While the presence of Prehistoric art has dwindled on the AP exam in recent years, the lessons learned from these objects are invaluable to the students in the overall understanding of art in all cultures.

Throughout the investigation of these objects (and throughout the entire course), consider the following question:

Why do people make art? It seems like a simple question but students can usually identify or synthesize multiple reasons for each object that we study.

Paleolithic Art (~30,000 BCE - 6,000 BCE)

Art was marked by early humans working with primitive paint and stone.

Red Dot Becomes Oldest Cave Art
  • One motif, a faint red dot, is more than 40,000 years old at El Castillo in Spain

Painting and Cave Art

Some of the richest artistic material from the time before written records comes from cave paintings. The three most famous prehistoric caves are Lascaux and Chauvet in France and Altamira in Spain.

external image Cave_painting%2C_Anthropos_%282%29.jpeg
Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 11.47.54 AM.pngTake a virtual tour of the Lascaux caves and see the different paintings on the walls and ceilings.

Lascaux (15000 BC) from Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Multimedia.pngThe Cave Drawings of the Lascaux Cave

Click here for background information on Chauvet.

One of the most common forms of painting were hand stencils. These basic prints may seem like just graffiti but they can tell a lot about the people that produced them.

Multimedia.pngThis video demonstrates how hand stencils were created. Your students can do this, too.

Who were the artists of these paintings?

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 11.32.59 AM.png**A Journey to the Oldest Cave Paintings in the World--in Indonesia**, Smithsonian (January 2016)


Paleolithic people began sculpting around this time, as well. It's important to note that these works of art are all Subtractive Sculptures, a key term that means they were carved or cut from a larger piece of stone.
One of the most popular iconographies are the "Venus Figures", sculptures of nude women. The functions of these artifacts are contended but frequently discussed.

The Venus of Willendorf is a sculpture In The Round, a key term meaning that it is completely free from the material it was made from; it can be touched on all sides and can be transported away from where it was created/found.
The Venus of Laussel is another Venus though she is Relief, a key word meaning that the raised, sculpted elements remain attached to a solid background of the same material.

Neolithic Art (~6,000 BCE - 500 BCE):

The Neolithic Period is marked by social organization and the formation of the first communities. Because of these cultural shifts, we begin to see the first large-scale art, including architecture.


The most famous Neolithic artwork is Stonehenge, located in southern England.
It's well known for its mysterious purpose and its impressive construction.


While many people have theories, the skill and intellect of these prehistoric monument builders is undeniable.

Modern scientists have calculated that the positions of the stones are aligned with seasonal landmarks and special occasions.

What do your students believe this may have been used for?

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Historical Connections

Link to Grade 7.6 for material on the characteristics of civilizations, including developed systems of religion, learning, art and architecture

Link to Grade 7.4 for background on metallurgy in neolithic times