Early Stone Age Cave Art

Written by rachel watkins
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Early Stone Age Cave Art
Venus figurines are common examples of Stone Age art. (Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

The Stone Age is commonly called the Paleolithic era by archaeologists. Art during this era includes paintings, relief carvings and sculptures found at cave sites where early humans gathered for shelter. The two main types of art recovered from this period are "parietal art," pictures and drawings on nonmobile surfaces, and "mobiliary art," small, movable carvings and figurines.

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Cupules were a widespread art form during the early Stone Age. A cupule is a cup-shaped hollow carved into a large rock surface. These hollows were pounded out of the stone and are usually found clustered in groups of anywhere from six to several hundred. Some cupules were created to form geometric patterns and other times their placement is random. While cupules can be formed by geologic forces, thousands of man-made cupules have been found throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and North and South America.

Venus Figures

Small figurines depicting short, round female forms became widespread during the upper Paleolithic era. The figurines have been found in an area stretching from Siberia across Europe to France. These figures are made of bone, ivory, wood, clay and varieties of soft stone such as limestone. The facial detail is usually minimal, with the sculptor focusing instead on wide hips, bellies, thighs and large breasts. There is no consensus among anthropologists as to what the figurines were used for, but many believe they were symbols of fertility.

Cave Art

The traditionally labelled "cave art" style of Paleolithic art is best represented by the Franco-Cantabrian sites throughout southwestern France and northern Spain. Although this area is relatively small it contains about 95 per cent of the known painted cave images in the world. The cave paintings feature thousands of images, many of which depict animals such as horses and human-like figures, painted in long murals with many connected figures. Charcoal and oxidised minerals were used to create the colour seen in this cave art.


Petroglyphs is a term derived from the root word "petra" meaning rock and "glyph" meaning picture. Petroglyphs are pictures carved into stone. Some designs depict the same type of animal images as cave paintings while other carvings depict geometric designs such as Celtic spirals. While writing did not develop during the Stone Age, some early petroglyph designs are viewed by archaeologists to be precursors to writing systems.

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