The art of the Upper Paleolithic represents the oldest form of prehistoric art. Figurative art is present in Europe as well as in Sulawesi, Indonesia, beginning at least 35,000 years ago. Non-figurative cave paintings, consisting of hand stencils and simple geometric shapes, is at least 40,000 years old.
According to a 2018 study based on uranium-thorium dating, the oldest examples of Iberian cave art were made as early as 64,000 years ago, implying Neanderthal authorship, which would qualify as art of the Middle Paleolithic.
The emergence of figurative art has been interpreted as reflecting the emergence of full behavioral modernity, and is part of the defining characteristics separating the Upper Paleolithic from the Middle Paleolithic. The discovery of cave art of comparable age to the oldest European samples in Indonesia has established that similar artistic traditions existed both in eastern and in western Eurasia at 40,000 years ago. This has been taken to suggest that such an artistic tradition must in fact date to more than 50,000 years ago, and would have been spread along the southern coast of Eurasia in the original coastal migration movement. It is important to note that most of the art of this period is expected to have been lost, as it was submerged in the early Holocene sea level rise.
Cave art in Europe continued to the Mesolithic (at the beginnings of the Holocene) about 12,000 years ago. European Upper Paleolithic art is also known informally as "Ice Age art", in reference to the last glacial period.
In November 2018, scientists reported the discovery of the oldest known figurative art painting, over 40,000 (perhaps as old as 52,000) years old, of an unknown animal, in a cave on the Indonesian island of Borneo.
Art of the European Upper Paleolithic includes rock and cave painting, jewelry, drawing, carving, engraving and sculpture in: clay, bone, antler, stone and ivory, such as the Venus figurines, and musical instruments such as flutes. Decoration was also made on functional tools, such as spear throwers, perforated batons and lamps. Engravings on flat pieces of stones are found in considerable numbers (up to 5,000 at one Spanish site) at sites with the appropriate geology, with the marks sometimes so shallow and faint that the technique involved is closer to drawing – many of these were not spotted by the earliest excavators, and found by later teams in spoil heaps. Painted plaques are less common. It is possible that they were used in rituals, or alternatively heated on a fire and wrapped as personal warmers. Either type of use may account for the many broken examples, often with the fragments dispersed over some distance (up to 30 metres apart at Gönnersdorf). Many sites have large quantities of flat stones apparently used as flooring, with only a minority decorated.
Some of the oldest works of art were found in the Schwäbische Alb, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. The Venus figurine known as the Venus of Hohle Fels, dates to some 40,000 years ago. The so-called Adorant from the Geißenklösterle cave dates to about the same time.
Other fine examples of art from the Upper Palaeolithic (broadly 40,000 to 10,000 years ago) includes: cave painting (such as at Chauvet, Lascaux, Altamira, Cosquer, and Pech Merle), incised / engraved cave art such as at Creswell Crags, portable art (such as animal carvings and sculptures like the Venus of Willendorf), and open-air art (such as the rock art of the Côa Valley and Mazouco in Portugal; Domingo García and Siega Verde in Spain; and Fornols-Haut in France). There are numerous carved or engraved pieces of bone and ivory, such as the Swimming Reindeer found in France from the Magdalenian period. These include spear throwers, including one shaped like a mammoth, and many of the type of objects called a bâton de commandement.
The animals depicted are prey sought by the Paleolithic hunters, such as reindeer, horses, bisons, mammoth, the woolly rhinoceros, and birds, as well as apex predators such as lions panthers or leopards, hyenas and bears.
The human form was represented comparatively rarely (relative to the depiction of animals); most notable are the Venus figurines (representation of the female form, emphasizing breasts and/or buttocks). (they often look either: young, old, or pregnant). The Lion-man of Hohlenstein-Stadel (Aurignacian) is a hybrid creature with a lion's head on a human body. Other possible hybrid figures are the Shaman of Trois-Frères and a "Bison-man" from the same cave system, and the "Bison-man" from the Grotte de Gabillou in the Dordogne. Representation of males are rare prior to incipient Mesolithic. Mesolithic examples include the "Pin Hole man" of Creswell Crags, Derbyshire.
There is evidence for some craft specialization, and the transport over considerable distances of materials such as stone and, above all marine shells, much used for jewellery and probably decorating clothes. Shells from Mediterranean species have been found at Gönnersdorf, over 1,000 kilometres from the Mediterranean coast. The higher sea levels today mean that the level and nature of coastal settlements in the Upper Paleolithic are now submerged and remain unknown.
Upper Paleolithic sites of the Near East, such as the Hayonim Cave, a cave located in a limestone bluff about 250 meters above modern sea level, in the Upper Galilee, Israel, have wall carvings depicting symbolic shapes and animals, such a running horse dated to the Levantine Aurignacian circa 28000 BP, and visible in the Israel Museum. This is considered as the first art object found within the context of the Levantine Upper Paleolithic.
Cave paintings from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi are situated in the Caves in the district of Maros were dated based on Uranium–thorium dating in a 2014 study. The oldest dated image was a hand stencil, given a minimum age of 39,900 years. A painting of a babirusa was dated to at least 35.4 ka, placing it among the oldest known figurative depictions worldwide. 
A cave at Turobong in South Korea containing human remains has been found to contain carved deer bones and depictions of deer that may be as much as 40,000 years old. Petroglyphs of deer or reindeer found at Sokchang-ri may also date to the Upper Paleolithic. Potsherds in a style reminiscent of early Japanese work have been found at Kosan-ri on Jeju island, which, due to lower sea levels at the time, would have been accessible from Japan.
In November 2018, scientists reported the discovery of the oldest known figurative art painting, over 40,000 (perhaps as old as 52,000) years old, of an unknown animal, in the cave of Lubang Jeriji Saléh on the Indonesian island of Borneo.
Gabarnmung, or Nawarla Gabarnmung, is an Aboriginal archaeological and rock art site in south-western Arnhem Land, in the Top End of Australia's Northern Territory. The rock shelter features prehistoric paintings of fish, including the barramundi, wallabies, crocodiles, people and spiritual figures. Most of the paintings are located on the shelter's ceiling, but many are found on the walls and pillars of the site. The painting on the ceiling has been securely dated to before 27,000 years ago.
Radiocarbon dating of charcoal excavated from the base of the lowest stratigraphic layer of the floor returned a mean age of 45189±1089 years Cal BP suggesting the oldest date for the earliest human habitation. Faceted and use-striated hematite crayons have been recovered from nearby locations (Malakunanja II and Nauwalabila 1) in strata dated from 45,000 to 60,000 years old which suggests that the Gabarnmung shelter may have been decorated from its inception.
The Bradshaws are a unique form of rock art found in Western Australia. They are predominantly human figures drawn in fine detail with accurate anatomical proportioning. They have been dated at over 17,000 years old.
The oldest known figurative art from Sub-Saharan Africa are seven stone plaquettes painted with figures of animals found at the Apollo 11 Cave complex in Namibia, and dated to between 27,500 and 22,500 years ago. There is a substantial amount of rock art attributable to the Bushmen (San) found throughout Southern Africa. Much of this art is recent (as evident from the subject matter depicted, including depictions of wagons and of white settlers wearing hats), but the oldest samples have been tentatively dated to as early as 26,000 years ago.
Matobo National Park, Zimbabwe, has many rock paintings. The oldest examples to 7,000 years ago, possibly as early as 13,000 years ago, while the bulk were likely produced between c. 1,700 and 1,500 years ago.  Petroglyphs in North Africa such as those at Tassili n'Ajjer, Algeria, are dated to about 12,000 to 10,000 years old. Petroglyphs in West Africa are younger, such as those of Bidzar, Cameroon, dated to after 3,000 years ago.
The Americas were first reached at the very end of the Last Glacial Maximum. The oldest known art from the Americas dates to the beginning Holocene. Thus, the rock paintings in the Toquepala Caves in southern Peru are dated at ca. 11,500 years ago. Some of the paintings are figurative, notably including a scene of armed men hunting guanaco cameloids. The men are in a posture of attacking the animals with axe, lances, and spear throwers (but not including bow and arrow). The paintings are polychrome, with red made from hematite being the dominant color. Early burial sites in Peru, such as the one at Telarmachay dating from about 10 ka onward, contained evidence of ritual burial, with deposits of red ocher and bead necklaces marking the site.
The Adorant from the Geißenklösterle cave is a 35,000-to-40,000-year-old section of mammoth ivory with a depiction of a human figure, found in the Geißenklösterle cave in the Swabian Jura near Blaubeuren, Germany.
The front face has a human figure of uncertain sex in relief, with raised arms and outstretched legs, but no hands. The posture is usually interpreted as an expression of worship, which is why in German the figure is called an "adorant", a word meaning "worshipper". It has been claimed that a belt and sword can be seen, although these are probably natural features of the ivory. On the plate's reverse are rows of small notches. The piece was found in 1979 and is now in the Landesmuseum Württemberg, Stuttgart. It is 38 mm (1.50 in) tall, 14 mm (0.55 in) wide, and 4.5 mm (0.18 in) thick. Traces of manganese and ochre can be found on it by microscope analysis.Baton fragment (Palart 310)
Dating to the last Ice Age (Upper Palaeolithic), this decorated fragment of a perforated antler baton was discovered in 1863 by Edouard Lartet and Henry Christy at the Abri de la Madeleine, an overhanging cliff situated near Tursac, in the Dordogne département and the Aquitaine Région of South-Western France. This is the type-site for the Magdalenian culture. It was bequeathed to the British Museum by Christy, and is now catalogued as Palart.310, but not normally on display (see below for current exhibition). The baton is 16.6 cm long, 5.5 cm wide and 3 cm thick. The fragment is broken at both ends and is distinguished by a near-cylindrical section, which is interrupted on one side by a horse motif, and on the other side by three deeply cut grooves.
The baton has one perforated hole in the near centre, with a deep groove above it, which runs long ways just below the upper edge. Directly to the left of the perforated hole is an image of a horse; this faces to the right, and appears in low-relief. The figure has a large eye, a high angular shaped mane, and small forelegs that seem to sweep backwards. There are two incised V shapes on its flank – that might suggest injury – or more likely movement.
The occurrence of a large eye is a feature found on other baton examples excavated at La Madeleine.Cave del Valle (Cantabria)
Cave del Valle (Spanish: Cueva del Valle, The Valley's Cave), locally also known as La Viejarrona (Old Girl), is located near El Cerro Village in the municipality of Rasines in Cantabria, northern Spain. The cave is the source of the Silencio River, a tributary of the Rio Ruahermosa, which in turn is a tributary of the Asón River. Notable for its prehistoric, but particularly for its speleologic significance as it is recognized as one of the longest cavities in the world. The site is very popular among cavers, who have explored a total of over 60 km (37.28 mi) so far.Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain
Under the name Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain (Cueva de Altamira y arte rupestre paleolítico del Norte de España) are grouped 18 caves of northern Spain, which together represent the apogee of Upper Paleolithic cave art in Europe between 35,000 and 11,000 years ago (Aurignacian, Gravettian, Solutrean, Magdalenian, Azilian).
They have been collectively designated a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 2008.
Chief among these caves is Altamira, located within the town of Santillana del Mar in Cantabria. It remains one of the most important painting cycles of prehistory, originating in the Magdalenian and Solutrean periods of the Upper Paleolithic. This cave's artistic style represents the Franco-cantabrian school, characterized by the realism of its figural representation. Altamira Cave was declared a World Heritage Site in 1985.
In 2008 the World Heritage Site was expanded to include 17 additional caves located in three autonomous regions of northern Spain: Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country.Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a 2010 3D documentary film by Werner Herzog about the Chauvet Cave in southern France, which contains the oldest human-painted images yet discovered. Some of them were crafted around 32,000 years ago. The film premiered at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival and consists of images from inside the cave as well as of interviews with various scientists and historians. The film also includes footage of the nearby Pont d'Arc natural bridge.Cave painting
Cave paintings are a type of parietal art (which category also includes petroglyphs, or engravings),
found on the wall or ceilings of caves. The term usually implies prehistoric origin, but cave paintings can also be of recent production: In the Gabarnmung cave of northern Australia,
the oldest paintings certainly predate 28,000 years ago, while the most recent ones were made less than a century ago.The oldest known cave paintings are over 40,000 years old (art of the Upper Paleolithic), found in both the Franco-Cantabrian region in western Europe, and in the caves in the district of Maros (Sulawesi, Indonesia). The oldest type of cave paintings are hand stencils and simple geometric shapes; the oldest undisputed examples of figurative cave paintings are somewhat younger, close to 35,000 years old.
A 2018 study claimed an age of 64,000 years for the oldest examples of (non-figurative) cave art in Iberia, which would imply production by Neanderthals rather than modern humans. In November 2018, scientists reported the discovery of the oldest known figurative art painting, over 40,000 (perhaps as old as 52,000) years old, of an unknown animal, in the cave of Lubang Jeriji Saléh on the Indonesian island of Borneo.El Mirón Cave
The El Mirón Cave is a large cave in the upper Asón River valley towards the eastern end of Cantabria in northern Spain, near the border of the Basque Country. It is an archeological site in Ramales de la Victoria. It is known for a skeleton belonging to a woman nicknamed The Red Lady of El Mirón. She is estimated to have died around 18,700 years ago, during the Upper Paleolithic (Magdalenian). The skeleton is examined to that of someone between 35 and 40 years. Her bones were coated with ochre, a red iron-based pigment, hence, her name.
The cave was discovered in 1903 by amateur archaeologists Hermilio Alcalde del Río and Lorenzo Sierra. It contains a rich collection of Upper Paleolithic art. Among the prominent arts are those of an engraving of a horse and possibly one of a bison. The first systematic excavation started only in 1996. The team of archaeologists, led by Lawrence Straus of the University of New Mexico and Manuel González Morales of the University of Cantabria, made a discovery of a number of prehistoric remains. The Red Lady was discovered in 2010. The cave contains a large limestone block towards the rear. A narrow space running through the block was the location of the skeleton..Font-de-Gaume
Font-de-Gaume is a cave near Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil in the Dordogne départment of south-west France. The cave contains prehistoric polychrome cave paintings and engravings dating to the Magdalenian period. Discovered in 1901, more than 200 images have been identified in Font-de-Gaume.Grotta dell'Addaura
The Addaura cave (Italian: Grotta dell'Addaura) is a complex of three natural grottoes located on the northeast side of Mount Pellegrino in Palermo, Sicily, southern Italy. The importance of the complex is due to the presence of cave-wall engravings dated to the late Epigravettian (contemporaneous with the Magdalenian) and the Mesolithic.
On the side of Mount Pellegrino, overlooking Palermo, to the southeast of Mondello beach at 70 metres (230 ft) above sea level, there are some open grottoes and cavities where bones and tools used for hunting have been found, attesting the presence of humans who lived in them beginning in the Paleolithic and into the Mesolithic. The finds are now conserved in Palermo's Regional Archaeological Museum. Their importance is mainly due to the presence of an extraordinary complex of rock engravings that decorate the walls, constituting a unique case in the panorama of prehistoric cave art. The name Addaura comes from Arabic: الدورة al-dawrah, 'the circuit'.Les Combarelles
Les Combarelles is a cave in Les Eyzies de Tayac, Dordogne, France, which was inhabited by Cro-Magnon people between approximately 13,000 to 11,000 years ago. Holding more than 600 prehistoric engravings of animals and symbols, the two galleries in the cave were crucial in the re-evaluation of the mental and technical capabilities of these prehistoric humans around the turn of the last century.Formed by an underground river, the cave is approximately 300 m (980 ft) long with an average width of 1 m (3.3 ft).Lion-man
The Löwenmensch figurine or Lion-man of the Hohlenstein-Stadel is a prehistoric ivory sculpture discovered in the Hohlenstein-Stadel, a German cave in 1939. The German name, Löwenmensch, meaning "lion-human", is used most frequently because it was discovered and is exhibited in Germany.
The lion-headed figurine is the oldest-known zoomorphic (animal-shaped) sculpture in the world, and the oldest-known uncontested example of figurative art. It has been determined by carbon dating of the layer in which it was found to be between 35,000 and 40,000 years old, and therefore is associated with the archaeological Aurignacian culture of the Upper Paleolithic. It was carved out of mammoth ivory using a flint stone knife. Seven parallel, transverse, carved gouges are on the left arm.
After several reconstructions that have incorporated newly found fragments, the figurine stands 31.1 cm (12.2 in) tall, 5.6 cm (2.2 in) wide, and 5.9 cm (2.3 in) thick. It currently is displayed in the Ulm Museum, Germany.Mammoth spear thrower
The Mammoth spear thrower is a spear thrower in the form of a mammoth, discovered at the "Montastruc rock shelter" in Bruniquel, France. It is from the late Magdalenian period and around 12,500 years old. It now forms part of the Christy Collection in the British Museum (Palart 551), and is normally on display in Room 2. Between 7 February – 26 May 2013 it was displayed in the exhibition at the British Museum Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind.Parietal art
Parietal art is the archaeological term for artwork done on cave walls or large blocks of stone. One of the most famous examples of parietal art is the Grotte Chauvet in France. Also called "cave art", it refers to cave paintings, drawings, etchings, carvings, and pecked artwork on the interior of rock shelters and caves. The purpose of these remains of the Paleolithic and other periods of prehistoric art is not known. However, some theories suggest that these paintings were not solely for decoration as many of them were located in parts of caves that were not easily accessed.Pech Merle
Pech Merle is a cave which opens onto a hillside at Cabrerets in the Lot département of the Occitania region in France, about 35 minutes by road east of Cahors. It is one of the few prehistoric cave painting sites in France that remain open to the general public. Extending for over a kilometre and a half from the entrance are caverns, the walls of which are painted with dramatic murals dating from the Gravettian culture (some 25,000 years BC). Some of the paintings and engravings, however, may date from the later Magdalenian era (16,000 years BC).
This area once had a great river flowing through it, cutting underground channels which were later used by humans for shelter and eventually for mural painting.
The cave art located in the deeper areas of the cave was discovered in 1922 by Marthe David, her brother Andre David and Henri Dutetre, three teenagers who had been exploring the cave for two years. Like other children of the area, these three had been encouraged and assisted in their exploration by Father Amedee Lemozi, the curate of Cabrerets and an amateur archaeologist who had discovered other cave paintings in the region.The walls of seven of the chambers at Pech Merle have fresh, lifelike images of woolly mammoth, spotted horses, single colour horses, bovids, reindeer, handprints, and some humans. Footprints of children, preserved in what was once clay, have been found more than half a mile underground. In 2013 the Tracking in Caves-project tested experience based reading of prehistoric footprints by specialised trackers of Ju/'hoansi San with great success. Within a six-mile radius of the site are ten other caves with prehistoric art of the Upper Palaeolithic period, but none of these are open to the public.
During the Ice Age the caves were very probably used as places of refuge by prehistoric peoples when the area had an Arctic climate, very cold temperatures, and native animal species very different from those of the present day. It is supposed that, at some point in the past, rain and sliding earth covered the cave entrances with an airtight seal until the 20th century.
Experimental reconstruction work by French archaeologist Michel Lorblanchet has suggested that the application of the paint for some of the paintings was probably by means of a delicate spitting technique.
The cave at Pech Merle has been open to the public since 1926. Visiting groups are limited in size and number so as not to destroy the delicate artwork with the excessive humidity, heat and carbon dioxide produced by breathing.Praileaitz Cave
The Praileaitz Cave (Basque for Rock of the Monk cave) is located in the municipality of Deba (Gipuzkoa, Basque Country).
Early in August 2006, various paleolithic cave paintings were found during an archaeological excavation - a non-figurative iconographic grouping made up of smaller groups of red dots, either isolated or forming a series. Researchers have surmised that the paintings were created c. 18,000 years BP.
The cave also yielded an unusual set of portable art on pebbles, with abstract forms that, in one case, suggested to the researchers resembled the Venus figurines found elsewhere in Paleolithic Europe. It was dated to the Lower Magdalenian period of the Cro-Magnon people.Santimamiñe
Santimamiñe cave, Kortezubi, Biscay, Basque Country, Spain, is one of the most important archaeological sites of the Basque Country, including a nearly complete sequence from the Middle Paleolithic to the Iron Age.Its complete sequence includes the following cultures:
AzilianPlus unclassified remains of the Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Bronze and Iron ages.
It is best known for its mural paintings of the Magdalenian period, depicting bisons, horses, goats and deers.
Its excellent location over the Urdaibai estuary was probably most important in its continued habitation, first by Neanderthals and later by Homo sapiens.
Since 2008, it is one of the caves included as a World Heritage Site within "Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain".Siega Verde
Siega Verde (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈsjeɣa ˈβeɾðe]) is an archaeological site in Serranillo, Villar de la Yegua, province of Salamanca, in Castile and León, Spain. It was added to the Côa Valley Paleolithic Art site in the World Heritage List in 2010.
The site consists of a series of rock carvings, discovered in 1988 by professors Manuel Santoja, during an inventory campaign of archaeological sites in the valley of the Águeda river. Subjects include equids, aurochs, deer and goats, among the most common ones, as well as bison, reindeer and the woolly rhinoceros, which were not yet extinct at the time.
The engravings date to the Gravettian culture of the Upper Palaeolithic (circa 20,000 years ago). There are also more recent, anthropomorphic representations, dating to the Magdalenian age (c. 9,000 years ago). There is a total of 91 panels, spanning some 1 kilometers of rock.Swimming Reindeer
The Swimming Reindeer is the name given to a 13,000-year-old Magdalenian sculpture of two swimming reindeer conserved in the British Museum. The sculpture was made in what is now modern-day France by an unknown artist who carved the artwork from the tip of a mammoth tusk. The sculpture was found in two pieces in 1866, but it was not until the early 20th century that Abbé Henri Breuil realised that the two pieces fit together to form a single sculpture of two reindeer swimming nose-to-tail.Tito Bustillo Cave
The Tito Bustillo Cave is a prehistoric rock shelter located in the small town of Ribadesella, in the autonomous community of Asturias, Spain. The cave was inhabited by humans (cro-magnon) before the year 10,000 BC. Due to the collapse of the rock, the original entrance to the cave was sealed thousands of years ago, which made it possible for preservation of objects, tools and wall paintings that were discovered in 1968. Based on those objects found in the cave, it is known that there was a significant human presence during the Magdalenian culture of the Upper Palaeolithic, but the cave was probably inhabited before that time.
The Tito Bustillo Cave has been designated a World Heritage Site, as part of the Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain, and it counts with 12 prehistorical paintings, making it one of the most complete examples of the prehistoric art in the north of Spain. The oldest of these paintings shows human figures and is around 33,000 years old, as determined by radiocarbon dating. Some scientists believe it could have been made by Neanderthals, though this theory hasn't been proven.
Some of the paintings represent animals: horses, deer, moose and even a marine animal (probably a whale) and they are believed to have had some kind of ritual purpose to improve their hunting. There is also a panel representing female genitalia and it is believed to have had the intention to invoke fertility. The oldest painting in the cave represents an anthropomorphic figure, part male, part female.
Apart from the paintings, some objects from the Magdalenian period were perfectly preserved. The most important ones are some harpoons made of bone and a carved staghorn of a goat head.
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