Mobiliary Art (40,000-2,500 BCE)
In archeology, the term "mobiliary art" is commonly used to denote any small-scale prehistoric art that is moveable (mobile), including: most forms of prehistoric sculpture, notably the mysterious Venus figurines that first appeared around 35,000 BCE; most types of ivory carving, including engraved bone tools; and any other statuettes, objects or jewellery art made from precious metals. One of the most famous examples is the ancient piece of Sumerian art known as The Guennol Lioness (c.3,000 BCE), which sold in 2007 for $56 million. It is estimated that roughly 10,000 items of mobiliary art have been discovered so far. Pottery is another form of portable art (albeit a highly functional one) which (we now know) first appeared during the Upper Paleolithic. For the world's most ancient pottery, see: Xianrendong Cave Pottery (c.18,000 BCE).
The opposite of such "mobiliary art" is "parietal art", which refers to cave art that is found on cave walls, floors or ceilings, and which therefore cannot be moved. While mobiliary artworks have been found on almost every continent of the world, the oldest art of this type emerged in Western Europe during the late era of Paleolithic art and culture (40,000-10,000 BCE). The two exceptions to this are the small humanoid effigies known as the "Venus of Berekhat Ram" (230-700,000 BCE) and the "Venus of Tan-Tan" (200-500,000 BCE). Created during the Acheulean culture of the Lower Paleolithic period, their advanced age means that they were made not by Homo sapiens neanderthalensis but by the more primitive Homo erectus. They are the first known human attempts at sculpture, and the oldest examples of mobiliary art in prehistory. For more about the chronology of Upper Paleolithic culture, see: Prehistoric Art Timeline (2.5 Million - 500 BCE).
Ordinarily, one would have expected Paleolithic hunter-gatherers to produce more mobiliary art than cave art: after all, hunter-gatherers were typically on the move, following herds of animals. In addition, carving is a skill practiced by most hunters. However, it is possible that the Ice Age forced Stone Age man into the warmth and security of underground caves, some of which became sacred sanctuaries, where cave painting may have formed part of the rituals promoting successful hunting. Furthermore, it is probable that much, if not most, mobiliary art either has decayed, or has been lost or destroyed.
As mentioned above, this category of Stone Age art includes any type of bone/tusk carving (like the famous Venus fertility symbols), portable stone sculpture, or terracotta sculpture (including ceramic art), or wood carving. Other materials used, included clay, steatite, serpentine, quartzite, jasper, jet, limonite, soapstone and even amber. It also includes items of applied art (mainly engraved tools), as well as a wide variety of precious objects and personal jewellery. During the later Neolithic period, caches of mobiliary art in the form of engraved weaponry, horse-bits and other equestrian equipment, as well as crowns, tiaras, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, amulets, rings, studs, brooches, torcs, hairpins and belt buckles, were often buried in the tombs and underground sepulchres of chieftains and religious leaders. By the time of Iron Age art, mobiliary artworks were the dominant feature of Celtic Hallstatt Culture (c.800-450 BCE) and La Tene Culture (c.500-50 BCE), along with their abstract Celtic designs.
Unlike the vast majority of "parietal art", which is dominated by animal themes, and has very few human figures, portable art depicts roughly as many 'human' as it does 'animal' figures. By the time of the Neolithic more humans were being represented than animals.
Unlike cave paintings and rock engravings whose age can often be calculated with reference to the soil stratas, rock samples and artifacts found in the cave, dating mobiliary art can be more difficult, especially when objects are discovered miles from their 'source'. Furthermore, in the case of (say), an engraved piece of stone, the dating method might be able to date the stone, but it can't say when it was engraved.
The leading method for dating mobiliary art is rardiocarbon dating, which dates organic materials. Another technique is Thermoluminescence dating - for dating inorganic material including pottery and other ceramic artifacts. One of the most modern dating methods is Uranium-thorium dating, also known as uranium-series dating, used to determine the age of calcium carbonate materials. Other methods include dendrochronology - used for dating trees, and other wooden objects, and cosmic radiation dating - used to to measure levels of Berylllium 10 in rocks.
The oldest pieces of mobiliary art tend to be ivory or bone carvings.
Carvings of the Swabian Jura (c.35,000-28,000 BCE)
of Moravany (24,000 BCE)
of Brassempouy (c.23,000 BCE)
of Lespugue (c.23,000 BCE)
of Kostenky (c.22,000 BCE)
Venuses (c.20,000 BCE)
Venuses (c.20,000 BCE)
Reindeer Antler Tool (Lortet Reindeer)
of Eliseevichi (14,000 BCE)
Soft rock like limestone has been one of the favourite media of artists throughout the history of sculpture.
of Galgenberg (c.30,000 BCE)
11 Cave Stones (c.25,500 BCE)
of Monpazier (c.25,000 BCE)
of Willendorf (c.25,000 BCE)
of Savignano (c.24,000 BCE)
Engen (13,000 BCE)
of Monruz-Neuchatel (10,000 BCE)
Ain Sakhri Lovers (c.9000 BCE)
Crouching Figure (c.5,000)
Few examples of terracotta mobiliary art have survived, although life-size statues like the Chinese Terracotta Army Warriors (c.220 BCE) have become world famous.
of Dolni Vestonice (c.26,000 BCE)
Goddess Figurine (c.5,750 BCE)
of Cernavoda (5000 BCE)
Samarra Plate (5000 BCE)
Almost no wood carving survives from prehistory. One miraculous exception is the Russian Shigir Idol.
Idol (7500 BCE)
Jewellery is one of the oldest types of mobiliary art, but the one most vulnerable to thieves or most likely to be melted down for other uses.
Pig Dragon Pendant (c.3,800 BCE)
Kneeling Bull with Vessel (c.3,000
The Guennol Lioness (c.3000 BCE)
Maikop Gold Bull (c.2500 BCE)
a Thicket (c.2500 BCE)
For more about prehistoric portable artworks, statuettes or other carved objects, see: Homepage.
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF STONE AGE