Exploring Paleolithic Art:

The Dawn of Being Human

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The Paleolithic is an amazing period of environmental transitions, which saw the rise and fall of new species, including Homo sapiens. Neanderthals thrived during the frozen ice age of the Lower Paleolithic, expanding northward as they successfully hunted the megafauna on the fringe of this arctic-like environment. Their settlements, hunting, art, and burials were a major departure from earlier hominins that had come before them.

As the climate warmed during the Upper Paleolithic Homo sapiens emerged on the scene, bringing with them yet another major cultural revolution, with new hunting techniques and greater amounts of art. The art of the Upper Paleolithic is one of the great cultural revolutions to have occurred.

This course will focus on the cultural transitions and art revolution of the Upper Paleolithic and the surviving examples that have been sheltered and preserved within caves for tens of thousands of years. It will cover famous cave art sites, including Alta Mira, Lascaux, and Cap Blanc, as well as lesser-known art found across Africa, Asia, and the Americas.


Weekly Materials:

  1. Week 1: Introduction to the Paleolithic and Neanderthals (Handout)

  2.   Additional Articles:

  3. Neanderthals Had Important Speech Gene, DNA Evidence Shows

  4. Early Neanderthal Constructions Deep in Bruniquel Cave in Southwest France

  5. Rock Engraving Made by Neanderthals in Gibraltar

  6. Documentaries:

  7. Neanderthals Human Extinction, BBC Documentary (shown in class)

  8. Decoding Neanderthals, NOVA Documentary

  1. Week 2: Environmental Change and the Expansion of Homo Sapiens (Handout)

  2.   Additional Articles:

  3. Paleolithic Art-A Cultural History

  4. The Ancestry and Affiliations of Kennewick Man

  5. Monte Verde: Seaweed, Food, Medicine, and the Peopling of South America

  1. Week 3: Paleolithic Art in Europe and Asia Handout

  2.   Additional Articles:

  3. A Journey to the Oldest Cave Paintings in the World

  4.   Documentaries:

  5. World’s Oldest Art Found in Indonesian Cave – video accompanies Week 3 Handout

  6. The Final Passage (trailer) – a 3D Exploration of Chauvet-Pont d’Arc Cave in France

  7. Lascaux - A Visit to the Cave – a virtual tour

  1. Week 4: Africa’s Rock Art Handout

  2.   Online Resources:

  3. The African Rock Art Archive

  4. UNESCO World Heritage Rock Art Sites in Africa

  5. Ancient Art in Somaliland in Limbo

  6.   Documentaries:

  7. Links to Documentary Films on African Rock Art

  8. The Mystery of Namoratunga

  1. Week 5: Earliest Art in Papua New Guinea and the Americas Handout

  2.   Online Resources:

  3. Cave Art in the Tropics - oldest rock art in the world, Indonesia

  4. Prehistoric Stone Artefacts from Enga and the Implication of Links Between the Highlands, Lowlands, and Islands for early Agriculture in Papua New Guinea

  5. The South American Rock Art Archive

  6. Florida Fossil Hunter Gets Credit For Big Find

  1. Week 6: Rock Art in the Americas and Transitions at the End of the Paleolithic Handout

  2.   Online Resources:

  3. Birth of a Sacred Tree: Serra da Capivara National Park

  4. Serra da  Capivara National Park, UNESCO World Heritage

  5. Cueva de las Manos, Santa Cruz Argentina

  6. Museo Chileno Precolombino

  7. North America’s Oldest Known Petroglyphs Discovered in Nevada (NPR)


© Mara Vejby 1 February 2018