What is rock art?

We explain what rock art is and its main characteristics. Also, what is the history of these ancient drawings.

  1. What is rock art?

Rock art or cave painting is called prehistoric sketches or drawings that have been discovered in stones or caverns , and that reflect the imaginary of primitive humanity .

It is one of the oldest cultural manifestations known in our history as a species, since some date back more or less 40,000 years ago , that is, the last planetary glaciation.

These illustrations are closely related to the petroglyphs, sculptures and engravings of that era, but unlike many of them they have been preserved in very good condition despite the centuries thanks to the protection provided by the natural support where they are located, Safe from erosion and wear.

The cave paintings have been found in practically all continents (except Antarctica), but the best known are those of Spain and France , from the transition period between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic, such as those found in the Altamira Caves, in Cantabria.

The importance of these findings is due to how much they reveal about the mentality of the primitive human being , inclined as much as we do towards the artistic representation of their daily lives, although it is assumed that these drawings also had some magical-religious importance, and that they did to ask for success in the hunt.

  1. Characteristics of rock art

Rock art
Rock paintings usually show wild animals and lines.

Thematically, the cave paintings are more or less homogeneous: those from the Paleolithic generally show wild animals and lines, while in the Neolithic appear human figures, handprints and other representations of the environment.

Most of the animals drawn are mammoths, bison, horses, deer and reindeer, often injured with arrows or hunting spears.

It is also striking that these drawings were made with very similar materials, despite being thousands of kilometers from each other: pigments of charcoal, feces and other body fluids , hematite, clay and manganese oxide, probably mixed with grease or some oil as a binder.

Usually one or two colors prevail in them: black, red, yellow and brown . They were smeared on the stone directly with the fingers, although animal figures were often scraped off with some stone or tool to generate effects of realism and three-dimensionality.

  1. Rock art history

Much is ignored regarding rock art, since it is difficult to find their actual production dates : most of the time this is done by measuring carbon-14 and other residual elements in time , but the presence in the material caves from different eras, as well as the contamination of the samples over time can lead to erroneous results.

The main findings in terms of cave paintings were between France and Spain, as it is a highly populated and favorable region at that time, but also in South Africa (Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg), Namibia (Twyfelfontein), Argentina (In the Sierras de Córdoba and in San Luis), Peru (The famous Nazca lines and geoglyphs), Malaysia (Gua Tambun in Perak), etc.

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