When you think of early human drawings, you might immediately think of ancient cave wall artwork… Walls covered in handprints, or maybe the dramatic retelling of a hunt that took place.
While some discovered early artwork was indeed like this (as you’ll soon see), the earliest drawings made by humans were likely simple markings made on rocks, or in the dirt. You might even call them doodles!
In fact, some of the earliest examples of such drawings are found in South Africa and are estimated to be around 73,000 years old. They’ve even been referred to as “Stone Age crayon doodles.”
But some of the oldest known drawings, paintings, and sculptures have been found in caves in Europe and Indonesia, dating back at least 40,000 years.
Perhaps one of the more astonishing early artwork ever discovered are the pig paintings found in the Leang Tedongnge cave on the Indonesian island, Sulawesi.
The Sulawesi pig paintings were found by a team of Indonesian and Australian archaeologists in 2017, and are believed to be the oldest known figurative art in the world – with some estimates dating them back to at least 45,500 years ago!
The depiction of these warty pigs suggests they held a special cultural and/or economic significance for the people who painted them.
In fact, evidence shows that humans hunted these Sulawesi warty pigs for tens of thousands of years, and they appear to be featured over and over again in prehistoric artwork during the Ice Age.
The Sulawesi warty pig artwork discovered here is 53” x 21” – and was painted using a dark red ochre pigment. If you take a closer look at the image above, you’ll also notice there are two handprints above the pig and to the left.
To make those handprints, “the artists would have had to place their hands on a surface then spit pigment over it, and the team are hoping to try to extract DNA samples from residual saliva.”
It is amazing to know that even 45,500 years ago, humans were still choosing to depict animals in their work, just as we do today!
Depiction of Animals
Another depiction of animals (estimated at 20,000 years old) were found inside the Lascaux Cave in France.
There are numerous paintings that cover the walls of this cave, with many depictions of animals such as horses, bison, deer, aurochs, and bears.
The animals are also painted in a variety of poses, including running, standing, lying down, and even falling backwards! They are often shown with really remarkable detail: patterns of their fur… the shapes of their bodies… and even expressions on their faces.
The animals are thought to have been of great cultural and spiritual significance, perhaps revered as symbols of power, fertility, or the natural world.
Archeologists say that the paintings were likely created using natural pigments, such as iron oxide, ochre, and charcoal. It’s also relatively clear that the artists used a variety of techniques to paint their pieces, including blowing pigment through their reeds, using their fingers, or applying with brushes!
The Cave of the Hands
Another, more well-known early human art discovery was the Cueva de las Manos (or “The Cave of the Hands”) in Argentina.
The Cueva de las Manos contains a collection of ancient handprints dating back to approximately 9,000-13,000 years ago.
The handprints pictured above were made using a stencil technique and often included images of animals and other objects alongside the handprints.
Of course, it will always be a mystery as to exactly why these handprints were left – and in this particular place – but archaeologists speculate that the handprints could have been made as a form of communication, a way to establish group identity, or as part of ritual or religious practices.
They may have also been created as a way to leave a lasting record of human presence or to mark territories.
Something we still do today:
Why Were These Created?
Of course, the reasons why early humans created their art and drawings like the ones above will never be entirely clear. It’s not as if we could directly ask them! 😉
However, one common theory is that early humans created art and drawings for spiritual or religious purposes, since many of the oldest examples of human art are found in caves or other sites that were associated with rituals and ceremonies.
Archaeologists theorize that the drawings and paintings may have been used as part of these ceremonies, perhaps to connect with the spiritual world or to seek protection or guidance from supernatural forces.
Another theory is that early humans created art and drawings as a way of communicating with each other. Just as we use pictures and symbols today to convey meaning, early humans may have used drawings and paintings to share information about their world, such as where to find food or water or how to hunt animals!
Art may have also been early humans’ way of creating for purely aesthetic reasons, such as to express creativity and appreciation for beauty… Just like many of us at Simple Daily Drawing!
While there are certainly many differences between early art and modern art, there are also many commonalities that demonstrate the enduring power and appeal of artistic expression across time and culture!
How amazing it is to know that our culture continues to spend time immersed in the arts just like our ancestors did.
And how fun to think that maybe one day… 45,000 years from now…. One of YOUR drawings, miraculously preserved, might be discovered…
And archeologists will muse over it, wondering:
“hmmm… I wonder why this artist drew this, and what the hidden meaning was…”