Cave painting: characteristics of this ancestral artistic phenomenon
Cave painting is one of the first artistic manifestations of prehistoric mankind.
Do you know what cave painting is? They are different creations from prehistoric times, located almost everywhere in the world (especially in Africa, South America and some European countries).
These paintings mainly represented hunting scenes, animals, symbols... But how were they created, what was their meaning, and with what colors and materials were they made? In this article we will answer these questions and many more (with curious facts).
What is cave painting?
What is a cave painting? It is a very ancient a very ancient pictorial work, a kind of drawing, sketch or painting, that we find in some rocks or caves.especially from prehistoric times. Cave paintings are an essentially prehistoric artistic expression and manifestation (although they go beyond a specific period or epoch), full of history and culture.
Specifically, the term "rupestris" derives from the Latin "rupestris" (this, in turn, derives from "rupes", which means "rock"). So, technically, when we speak of "rupestrian" we are referring to a type of human activity carried out on the walls of caves, rocks, ravines, etc.
Thanks to the fact that cave painting is usually protected from erosion and weather conditions (due to its location), it has endured over the centuries.
Thus, rock painting is actually a very old (even the oldest) artistic manifestation. In fact, there are testimonies of them dating back to more than 40,000 years ago (time of the last glaciation). (at the time of the last glaciation).
However, some research (such as one conducted by the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa) reveals that paintings could exist further back in time, thanks to the finding in 2018 of a stone with a rock painting (Paleolithic drawings) from more than 40,000 years ago; specifically, it is estimated that this rock painting was engraved more than 73,000 years ago.
Cave painting has a very long history. Although it is more typical of prehistoric times, this type of painting can be found in all periods of the history of human beings.
As a curious fact: where do we find cave paintings? Well, In all continents except one: Antarctica..
And where are the oldest and most famous cave paintings located? In two countries: Spain and France. Specifically, we find many of them in the transition period, from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic.
Which Spanish cave paintings from the Paleolithic period are among the most famous? One of the most relevant is the painting located in the Altamira Cave, located in Santillana del Mar (Cantabria, Spain).
Another curious fact about cave paintings is that today it is known that the vast majority of them were the great majority of them were made by women (about 75% of them (about 75% of them, although in reality, the different human groups that hunted and gathered fruits made this type of paintings, including men.
The value of painting: meanings
Both cave painting and other artistic manifestations have the same function: To represent art, to express and organize a system of artistic representation.. In addition, cave painting is related (especially its origin) with religious, mystical and magical practices, which were intended to promote hunting. These paintings have also been related to places of sanctuary and prayer.
Where can we find these prehistoric art forms?
Mainly, cave paintings appear in caves, although they can be located in other structures. These types of paintings have been found in remote and isolated areas of the caves (places that are really inaccessible), but also in more visible areas, in clear areas, etc. However, as a general rule, this type of paintings were located in the interior of the grounds and caves, in areas where the darkness was complete or almost complete. or almost complete darkness.
Apparently, the artists of such creations used small stone lamps to create their artistic drawings, which were nourished by marrow (the marrow they used was the marrow of the bones of an animal).
What was drawn and what was symbolized by the cave paintings? Different themes. Thus, we find cave paintings of different types: in them we can appreciate animals, lines, symbols, human beings, hands, elements of the environment, nature, etc.
Paleolithic and Neolithic
If we divide history into the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods, we find that in the first period (Paleolithic) cave paintings mainly symbolized animals and lines. In the second period, however, animals, environment, hands and human beings appear above all (i.e., this type of painting is acquiring a certain complexity).
In the Neolithic, the usual behavior of the communities was represented mainly through cave painting. through cave painting. The interaction of these collectives with the creatures and living beings of the environment was also reflected. In this particular period, cave painting is based on figures (animals) such as horses, reindeer, deer, mammoths, bison... It is also common to find wounded animals, especially with arrows.
Materials and colors
As for the materials used to create this type of paintings, today we know that they were elaborated with different paints, very were elaborated with different paints, very similar to each other in the different historical periods (and in different areas of the world).
On the other hand, what (and how many) colors were used to create cave paintings? Generally, for each cave painting, only one or two colors were used. The most commonly used were black, ochre, yellow and red.
Another type of colors, those of vegetable origin (called pigment colors), were also used, and were made from fluids, charcoal, mineral compounds (clay, hematite, manganese oxide, resin, fat...) and body wastes (feces).
How did they paint and create?
The creators of cave painting used the colors described above, smearing their fingers with them, and with the different materials available. Other options they had were to spit the paint on the rocks, or to use a hollow reed (blowing thin lines of paint to elaborate the cave painting).
On the other hand, they could rub the powdered pigments of the colors on the wall, directly..... They might or might not mix these pigments with another substance (e.g. a binder), and use reeds, rudimentary brushes or other tools.
They also used, on some occasions, pencils.. To do this, they took burnt branches and balls of mineral dye, which they agglutinated with another substance: resin. To give a sense of volume and realism in their creations, they sometimes chose to take advantage of the unevenness of the wall, as well as its irregularities and crevices.
For example, in paintings with animals, the artists would scrape (i.e., mark) the silhouettes of the animals to create incisions, thus producing a perhaps more realistic and noticeable outline in the rock.
- Alonso T., Anna and Alexandre G. (2007). L'Art Rupestre del Cogul. Primeres Imatges Humanes a Cataluña, Pagès Editors, Lérida.
- Díaz-Andreu, M. (2002). History of Archaeology. Estudios. Madrid: Ediciones Clisicas.
- Martínez C. and Diego and Botiva Contreras, A. (2004). Manual de arte rupestre de Cundinamarca. ICANH-Gobernación de Cundinamarca. Second Edition.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)