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Prehistoric Art: The Upper Paleolithic Revolution



The Upper Paleolithic or Late Stone Age begins and ends with a revolution. The first one is what can be considered the ‘official’ appearance of art, some 50,000 years ago. The second, the invention of agriculture, 40,000 years later.

Venus of Hohlen Fels

Venus of Hohlen Fels

The earliest sample of Paleolithic art is the shells with holes and chipped edge modifications from Ksar Akil. These flakes show regular teeth distributed at frequent intervals, and are believed to have been used as pendants or beads.

However, a deeply fascinating example of early art is the beautiful German Venus of Hohle Fels (image). Made with ivory and mammoth tusk,  this Cro-Magnon beauty  is the oldest undisputed example of human figurative prehistoric art yet discovered. Also worth mentioning, from the same region and around the same time, the fascinating lion man of the Hohlenstein Stadel, the oldest known zoomorphic (animal-shaped) sculpture in the world.

We might never know how our very early ancestors chose to express their thoughts, feelings and fears, as there is no physical evidence of the things they created, apart from their beautiful yet relatively simple flint artifacts. What we do know, however, is that 50,000 years ago climate changes – mainly temperature drops – generated a mark increase in the diversity of materials they could use.

A curious fact: Flint becomes brittle at low temperatures, rendering it useless as a tool. It’s believed timber might have also been scarce. And so the experimenting began, and clay, bone, antler, stone and ivory became the stars of the Upper Palaeolithic.


UX Designer and Anthropologist, hardcore gamer, obsessive reader and improvised artificer of crafts. I cheated on population genetics with graphic design and since that the three of us have been living happily ever after. I enjoy writing little pieces on practically anything that catches my eye, but I lean towards those occasions when art overlaps with science.

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