Categories: ArtHistory

Art of the Middle Paleolithic

The earliest undisputed evidence of prehistoric art dates to the Upper Paleolithic, some 50,000 to 40,000 years ago. Visual art began with emergence of sculptures, beads and cave paintings of Europe, Africa, Americas and Australia in the cultures of Homo sapiens at around 40,000 years ago.

Together with religion and other cultural universals of contemporary human societies, the emergence of figurative art is a necessary attribute of full behavioral modernity. There is, however, evidence of an emerging “preference for the aesthetic” among the Homo Erectus of the Lower Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) and the Homo sapiens of the Middle Paleolithic (Middle Stone Age) in the period leading up to the beginning Upper Paleolithic, from 200,000 to 50,000 years ago, in particular in the high symmetry exhibited by stone tools, often manufactured with much greater care than would strictly be needed to arrive at an operative hand-axe.

Scientifically discussed objects
Ancient Paleolithic art expressions of Homo erectus can be claimed for the first time with rhythmically arranged stroke sequences on bones from the site Bilzingsleben. These are – as they reflect a non-earmarked action – known as proto-Art. However, these are in no case figurative representations.

Alleged Venusfigurinen are occasionally postulated for the ancient Palaeolithic. The so-called Venus of Tan-Tan (Morocco) is a surface find of the Hessian archaeologist Lutz Fiedler. The second object of this kind is the Venus of Berekhat Ram (Israel). Both pieces, however, are considered by most scholars to be geofacts, ie natural games. The oldest secured Venusfigurine is the Venus of the hollow rock from the Aurignacien.

The possibility of manipulation by humans shows the so-called mask of La Roche-Cotard. The object comes from a secure layer context of Moustériens, the time of the late Neanderthals. However, it is by the majority of scientists for a random as a facial representation acting sintering held.

Pre–Homo sapiens
Claims of artistic activity, in the form of diagonal etchings made with a sharks tooth, were made in 2014 relating to a 500,000-year-old fossil of a clam found in Java in the 1890s associated with Homo Erectus.

Homo erectus had long before produced seemingly aimless patterns on artifacts such as is those found at Bilzingsleben in Thuringia. Some have attempted to interpret these as a precursor to art, allegedly revealing the intent of the maker to decorate and fashion. The symmetry and attention given to the shape of a tool has led authors to controversially argue Acheulean hand axes as artistic expressions.

The Mask of La Roche-Cotard has also been argued as being evidence of Neanderthal figurative art, although in a period post-dating their contact with Homo sapiens. The “Divje Babe flute” had controversially been claimed as a Neanderthal musical instrument dating to about 43,000 years ago, but is now usually thought of as a bone bored by a carnivore.

There are several other claims of Lower Paleolithic art, namely the “Venus of Tan-Tan” (before 300 kya) and the “Venus of Berekhat Ram” (250 kya). Both of these may be natural rock formations with an incidental likeness to the human form, but some scholars have suggested that they exhibit traces of pigments or carving intended to further accentuate the human-like form.

Blombos cave
In 2002 in Blombos cave, situated in South Africa, ochre stones were discovered engraved with grid or cross-hatch patterns, dated to some 70,000 years ago. This suggested to some researchers that early Homo sapiens were capable of abstraction and production of abstract art or symbolic art. Also discovered at the Blombos cave were shell beads, also dating to c. 70,000 years ago. In 2011, the cave surrendered containers which may have held paints, along with other art supplies, dating to c. 100,000 years ago.

Several archaeologists including Richard Klein of Stanford are hesitant to accept the Blombos caves as the first example of actual art.

Controversial Old Paleolithic cabaret in Germany
The discussion about “small sculptures” made of flint was made by the French amateur archaeologist Jacques Boucher de Perthes in the first half of the 19th century. He interpreted the “figurines” found by him as the oldest evidence of human art and wrote about it in 1847 the book “Antiquités Celtiques et Antédiluviennes”. Thus he detained for several decades the fame of the also discovered by him hand axes in the valley of the Somme, on the basis of the cultural stage of the Acheuléens was set up. The prehistorian Hugo Obermaier(1877-1946) was initially critical of the finds, but accepted at the beginning of the 20th century, the possible authenticity of the cabaret works.

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Walther Matthes
There has been a new impetus in the discussion of Old Paleolithic cabaret in German since the 1960s through publications by Walther Matthes (1901-1997). Matthes was from 1934 to 1969 Professor of “History and Germanic Early History” at the University of Hamburg.

The engineer Hans Oeljeschlager from Hamburg-Poppenbüttel in 1957 Matthes became aware of the Palaeolithic finding of three ostensible small flint stone sculptures, the Oeljeschlager in Alstertal in the years 1932/33, together with flint tools (blades, scraper, etc.), made and Called “face stones”. Matthes the finds dated from a moraine, which he considers genuine artifacts in the crack ice age, ie in the period of Neanderthal. Later Elisabeth Neumann Gundrum (1981), with its large stone sculptures, Matthes believes that prehistoric people in nature have clarified forms found through post-processing.

Herbert Kühn expressed in 1965 in agreement to the interpretations of Matthes: “These sculptures belong in the period between 250,000 and 150,000 and apparently before that.”

The local historian Friedrich Schäfer also dealt with alleged small sculptures and, together with Matthes, collected further paleolithic material at the site Pivitsheide in Lipper Land in 1958.

In the following years Matthes put on an extensive collection of corresponding objects from northern Germany. Since official museums showed no interest in his collection, Matthes exhibited the objects at the beginning of 1963 in 28 cupboards in the rooms of his seminar at the University of Hamburg. A demand in 2000 at the University of Hamburg showed that the “figurines” of Matthes were taken on his retirement as a private property and about the whereabouts nothing is known. In 1969 Matthes published a book for figural Eiszeitkunst entitled Ice Age Art in the North Sea region in cooperation with the Association Helgoland eV, history and culture of the German Bight

Academic science unanimously rejects the interpretations of these objects as small sculptures, and interprets the stones as natural products or stone objects with only coincidental similarities to faces or animals. There seems to be no convincing evidence of targeted processing.

According to the scientist Rainer Michl of the University of Hamburg, there was no interest in the collection of Prof. Matthes on the part of the university, since “in the unanimous opinion of Stone Age and stone-chipping experts it was clearly not artefacts but natural products,… Matthäus’s view has probably been noted as a curiosity. ”

The theses of Matthes were accepted by authors in the right-wing extremist Grabert publishing house.

Other works on Paleolithic small sculptures
A comprehensive discussion of the history of the “glacial miniature works of art” can be found in Katholing, who mentions the following protagonists :

The Nazi esoteric Karl Maria Wiligut, who was sponsored by Heinrich Himmler and his foundation ” Ancestral Heritage “, also had its own collection of supposedly prehistoric artifacts.
Elisabeth Neumann-Gundrum argued in an illustrated book from 1981 that in all of Europe, Paleolithic large stone sculptures exist on rock formations that are supposed to show huge faces, among which the author repeatedly reveals the motifs of “Zwiegesicht” and “Atemgeburt” wants to have recognized. In this case too, scientists see the rock formations as being of natural origin and the similarities with faces as mere coincidences (also Katholing 2001 expresses doubts about Neumann-Gundrum’s theses in his book on the large-scale stone sculptures). The report printed in Neumann-Gundrum’s book on the alleged evidence of traces of damage to these rock formations does not come from a suitably qualified archaeologist but from an unknown stonemason.
Dorothea Regber describes some supposedly from the ice age originating artefacts, which she calls hedgehog, mammoth and heart stones.
Kurt E. Kocher discusses some alleged minor art works by Neanderthals and Homo erectus from Germany.
The layman Hans Grams is of the opinion that sculptures with head and face depictions on rubble were made by early humans.

Source from Wikipedia