What Is Prehistoric Art?

Prehistoric art refers to the global and preliterate origins of human artistic achievements, the first attempts of which appear to have been made about 100,000 B.C. in the form of African rock art. What represents the first evidence of human workmanship with an intent of true artistic purpose is a subject of some debate, but it is generally agreed upon that such workmanship existed during the Upper Paleolithic era 40,000 years ago. Prehistoric art encompasses those artistic endeavors made by a particular culture before a writing system was developed or before contact was made with another culture that had some form of written record-keeping in place, at which point ancient art begins.

The end date of what represents a culture’s prehistoric art and the beginning of its ancient art varies in different parts of the world. Some archaeologists interpret certain artifacts and tools from between 100,000-50,000 B.C., the Middle Paleolithic era, as exemplifying a form of prehistoric artistic expression in their creation.

Early prehistoric art consists of portable art, such as beads and figurines, and cave paintings. Pottery appeared later, along with sculpture and the construction of stone megaliths. The development of metalworking during the Bronze Age gave rise to a new media for the production of objects that can be considered as having no other purpose than art.