Red Symbol, Altamira Cave, Spain.
These double club shapes have been
U/Th dated to about 34,000 BCE.
For details of colour pigments used,
Era: A Summary
art, the term "Aurignacian" describes the very earliest
period of Upper Paleolithic art
and culture in Europe, which coincided with the entry of anatomically
modern humans into Europe and the progressive disappearance of the indigenous
Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis). Named after the type site
of Aurignac in the Haute-Garonne area of France, the Aurignacian period
was preceded by the Mousterian era of the Middle Paleolithic, and succeeded
by the Gravettian period. (For details, please see: Prehistoric
Art Timeline.) Up until the 20th century, the majority of Paleolithic
archeologists doubted that Aurignacian Man was capable of producing fine
art. This changed during the 1930s with the first discoveries of ivory
carvings in the Swabian Jura. Indeed, the earliest example of figurative
art, the Venus of Hohle Fels (38-33,000
BCE) was carved during the Aurignacian. This masterpiece of prehistoric
sculpture was discovered in September 2008 at the Hohle Fels Cave
in the Swabian Jura of southwestern Germany. The most famous example of
cave painting created during the Aurignacian
culture was found in 1994 at the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc cave, in the Ardeche
valley in the Rhone-Alpes region of southern France. However, new Uranium/Thorium
tests show that the El Castillo
cave paintings (red dot and hand stencils) and some of the Altamira
cave paintings also belong to the art of the Aurignacian period. More
recent discoveries of Aurignacian cave art
include the primitive Fumane cave
paintings near Verona and the Abri
Castanet engravings in the Dordogne, both dating to 35,000 BCE.
Aurignacian Art: History,
As the period progressed, both parietal
art and mobiliary art gradually became
less stylistic and more naturalistic, although it remained relatively
primitive. Animals, for instance, were drawn with a degree of anatomical
accuracy. Human figures, however, remained more symbolic, particularly
in the case of the ubiquitous Venus Figurines
which first appeared during the Aurignacian period. The latter were small
fertility carvings of obese females, made with exaggerated depictions
of their pelvic regions and reproductive organs. As dating methods improve,
we can expect more ancient art to be
of Aurignacian Culture
Abstract Art in the cave of El
Castillo (c.39,000 BCE)
In 2012, a red dot and a hand print discovered in the Cave of El Castillo
- a Cantabrian rock shelter - were dated to at least 39,000 BCE and 35,500
BCE respectively, making them the oldest art
of their type from a cave in Europe. Only La
Ferrassie Cave Cupules (c.60,000 BCE) are more ancient. For more details,
please see: Prehistoric Abstract Signs
NOTE: For contemporaneous Aurignacian
painting in Southeast Asia, see: Sulawesi
Cave Art (Indonesia) (c.37,900 BCE).
Abstract Engraving in Gorham's
Cave (c.37,000 BCE)
Experts believe that small rock engravings discovered at Gorham's
Cave in Gibraltar, were created by Neanderthal artists. Sceptics disagree
citing the fact that the petroglyph was not directly dated. The debate
Figurative Carvings in Southwestern
Germany (c.39,000-28,000 BCE)
From the 1930s onwards, the prehistoric rock shelters of the Swabian Jura,
including the caves of Vogelherd, Hohlenstein-Stadel, Geissenklosterle
and Hohle Fels, have yielded a large number of Aurignacian carvings. Examples
are: (1) the anthropomorphic figure known as the Lion
Man of Hohlenstein-Stadel (c.38,000 BCE); (2) the Venus of Hohle Fels
(38,000-33,000 BCE), mentioned above; (3) the mammoth ivory figurine (c.33,000
BCE) the oldest known carving of an animal; (4) the Hohle Fels Flute (c.33,000
BCE) the oldest known musical instrument, made from a vulture's wing bone.
Figure Paintings in Fumane Cave
An important site with extensive evidence of occupation by Neanderthal
and later anatomically modern man, noted for crude images of animals and
a half-man, half-animal figure (or shaman) on rock fragments from a wall,
found buried in debris.
Engravings at Abri Castanet
Engravings, paintings and abstract signs discovered on the underside of
a huge limestone block which had become detached from the ceiling, some
37,000 years ago.
Geometric Imagery in the Altamira
Cave (c.34,000 BCE)
In 2012, U/Th tests on a club-shaped image found in the Horse's Tail passageway
at Altamira, showed that it was painted no earlier than 34,000 BCE, making
it one of the oldest examples of Stone
Age art in Spain.
Paintings in Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc
Cave (c.30,000 BCE)
The discovery of the Chauvet cave
paintings - a glorious cache of Aurignacian rock
art - raises questions about the relationship between the prehistoric
painters of Chauvet and the prehistoric sculptors of the Swabian Jura.
Paintings in Coliboaia Cave
Found in 2009 and now radiocarbon dated to at least 30,000 BCE, the charcoal
drawings of horses, bison and reindeer found in this Romanian cave represent
the oldest cave art in Central Europe. For more details, please see: Coliboaia
Cave Art, Apuseni Natural Park, Romania.
Venus Figurine at Galgenberg
Carved from serpentine stone, the Venus
of Galgenberg (also known as the Stratzing Figurine) was found at
a hunter-gatherer camp site in Lower Austria, near the location of the
Venus of Willendorf. It is the oldest known prehistoric sculpture
Grotte des Deux-Ouvertures
The Grotte des Deux-Ouvertures (Cave
of Two Openings) was first discovered in 1878 but not properly excavated
until 2008, this extensive Aurignacian complex is located in the Ardeche
gorge, near Aigueze, not far from Chauvet cave, with which it is contemporaneous.
It is best known in particular for its rock engravings
and pictographs, featuring 52 figures including
mammoths and aurochs.
Nawarla Gabarnmang charcoal drawing
Discovered in June 2011, in the Top End of Arnhem Land, Northern Territory,
the Nawarla Gabarnmang charcoal drawing
is Australia's oldest confirmed example of Australian
aboriginal art. Other examples of Australian art believed to originate
during the Aurignacian era, include: Ubirr
Rock Art in Arnhem Land (from 30,000 BCE), Kimberley
Rock Art in northern Australia (30,000 BCE) and Burrup
Peninsula Rock Art in the Pilbara (c.30,000).
For a comparison with ancient African
art, see the animal pictures on the Apollo
11 Cave Stones (c.25,500 BCE).
About Prehistoric Art
Stone Age Art: Top 100 Artworks
All the greatest art of the early Aurignacian.
Cave Rock Art (70,000 BCE)
South African stone engravings dating back to the Mousterian culture.
of Berekhat Ram and Venus of Tan-Tan
(c.230,000 - 700,000 BCE)
Earliest known stone figurines, or effigies.
of Bhimbetka (c.290,000 - 700,000 BCE)
The earliest known type of art - in this case, cupule
art - found at Auditorium Cave, Bhimbetka and at Daraki-Chattan Cave,
both in Madhya Pradesh, India.