The First Stirrings of Creation

By Bednarik, Robert G. | UNESCO Courier, April 1998 | Go to article overview

The First Stirrings of Creation


Bednarik, Robert G., UNESCO Courier


Rock art, found in almost all the world's regions, is a mine of information about early man's intellectual development

Prehistoric rock art is by far the largest body of evidence we have of humanity's artistic, cognitive and cultural beginnings. It is found in most countries of the world, from the tropics to the Arctic regions, in sites ranging from deep caves to high mountains. Many tens of millions of rock art figures or motifs have been found, and more are being discovered each year. This massive, semi-permanent and cumulative record is the most direct evidence we have of how pre-humans first became human and then evolved complex social systems.

Some widely held misconceptions about the origins of art must be dispelled at the outset. Art as such did not appear suddenly, but developed gradually with the cognitive evolution of humans. By the time that the famous cave art of France and Spain was being produced, art traditions are thought to have been well established at least in southern Africa, the Levant, eastern Europe, India and Australia, and no doubt in many other regions that have yet to be examined adequately.

When were humans first able to produce abstractions of reality? In addition to its interest for the art historian and the archaeologist, this question is of wider concern, if only because ideas of cultural precedence have been effective in shaping racial, ethnic and national value judgments and even fantasies. The notion that art began in the caves of western Europe furthers myths of European cultural precedence, for example. Secondly, the origins of art are thought to be intimately intertwined with the emergence of several other distinctively human faculties: the ability to form abstract concepts, to symbolize, to communicate at an advanced level, to develop a notion of the self. Apart from prehistoric art we have no tangible evidence from which to infer these capacities.

The beginnings of art

Art production was preceded by "non-utilitarian" behaviour patterns, i.e. behaviour that seems to lack practical purpose. The earliest discernible archaeological evidence for this is the use of ochre or haematite, a red mineral pigment collected and used by people several hundred thousand years ago. These early humans also collected crystals and petrified fossils, and colourful or oddly shaped pebbles. They had begun to distinguish between ordinary, everyday objects and the unusual, the exotic. Presumably they had developed concepts of a world in which objects could be categorized into different classes. Evidence of this appears first in southern Africa, then in Asia and finally in Europe.

The oldest known rock art was produced in India two or three hundred thousand years ago. It consists of cup marks and a meandering line hammered into the rock of a sandstone cave. At about the same time, simple line markings were made on a variety of portable objects (bone, teeth, ivory and stone) which have been found at the camp sites of early humans. Sets of bunched engraved lines first appear in central and eastern Europe; they developed into distinctive arrangements that can be recognized as motifs such as zigzags, crosses, arcs and sets of parallel lines.

This phase, which archaeologists call the Middle Palaeolithic (perhaps 35,000 to 150,000 years ago), is crucial in human intellectual and cognitive development. This was also the time when people developed seafaring capacity, and crossings of up to 180 km were eventually made by colonizing parties. Regular ocean navigation clearly required an advanced system of communication, presumably language.

People of this period also mined ochre and flint in several world regions. They began building large communal dwellings of mammoth bones in southern Russia, and erected stone walls in caves. But most importantly, they produced art. In Australia, some specimens of rock art may be up to 60,000 years old, as old as human occupation of the continent itself, and hundreds of sites contain examples which are thought to predate the cave art of western Europe. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The First Stirrings of Creation
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.