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Nature, Reasons and Uses of Prehistoric Art
The narrow range of subjects of prehistoric art, which is animal life and fertility, as well as the remoteness and inaccessibility of many of the cave paintings, sculptures and carvings that have been discovered, indicate that the works of art were not “art for the sake of art”. ‘ thus produced merely for decoration. Prehistoric men and women had far more important reasons for producing works of art. Some of the reasons for their creation are:
1. A means of survival
2. A form of magic to overcome the animals that threatened his life
3. A form of ritual and worship
4. Teaching tools for amateur hunters
5. Recording information and telling stories
6. Fertility charm
• As a means of survival
The predominance of animals in various prehistoric arts, i.e. paintings, sculptures, carvings and ceramics shows the importance of animals in those societies. In fact, the entire survival and sustenance of cave men and women depended largely on animals. The representation of animal images in painting, engraving and sculpture was a form of charm or magic that ensured the successful hunting of wild and wild animals in deep caves and dense forest. The following points highlight how hunted animals were used to meet the basic needs of life by prehistoric men and women:
1. Meat parts or the meat of hunted animals were eaten as food.
2. Outer coverings or skins of animals, feathers of large birds and fur of mammals were worn on the body as a form of cloth for protection from harsh climatic conditions or weather.
3. Fats and marrow collected from animals were used as fuel in lamps made from stone or clay.
4. Animal fats and their blood were used to make colored pigments and binders for colored ochres from rocks.
5. Animal bones were used to make simple weapons for hunting activities and as palettes for mixing paints.
6. In addition to the caves that served as the main shelter for the cave men and women, they made tents from animal skins and huts from clay, plant fibers, stone and bone.
• As a form of magic to overcome the animals that threatened his life
Prehistoric men were hunters and depended mainly on animals for their survival.
However, most of these animals were wild and wild. Hunting these animals was very dangerous because they hunted these animals with weapons, tools or simple tools. Because of this, prehistoric men and women turned to a type of practical magic known as charm magic or hunting magic. This hunting spell was based on the caveman’s belief that there was a close connection or association between an object and its image. Therefore, whatever was done to the drawn image was believed to affect the spirit of the living animal.
To achieve this, the caveman deliberately left some sensitive parts of the animal’s images to be hunted such as the eyes, ears and nose. It was believed that this prevented the living animal from seeing, hearing or smelling the presence of the caveman on the eve of the hunt. Sometimes, arrows were drawn pierced into the bodies of the images. The caveman believed that this would eventually render the animal helpless or injured bringing the animal under their control. The charming spell was to ensure success in capturing or killing the animal. Fresh or new paintings were made for the next day’s hunt. This gave rise to numerous cave paintings, carvings and sculptures.
• As a form of ritual, worship and initiation ritual
Images of animals enclosed in the surfaces or walls of caves were believed to be objects of worship on which rituals were performed for success in hunting activities. Special dances are believed to be performed around the images for a good hunt. During initiation ceremonies for young people living in those communities, images of animals were used in rituals.
• As teaching tools for amateur hunters
Images of animals served as teaching tools to instruct young hunters about the character of the various species they would encounter when engaging in a hunt. It is said that experienced cave hunters may have used the images to point out parts of each animal species to be targeted with spears by the first timers, so that hunting would not be an arduous task for them.
• As a tool for recording information and telling stories
Paintings and engravings of a group or herd of animals were used to record animal migrations during the passing seasons. Some animal compositions such as the composition of the rhinoceros, a wounded man and a bison found in the Lascaux cave in the Dordogne in France were believed to tell a tale of a hunt or the death of a heroic man. Most of the compositions in the many cave paintings are believed to have been prehistoric man’s means of recording events and situations experienced in his hunting activities, as there was no written form of record of events.
• As a fertility charm
The sculptural figures of women discovered in the caves were believed to be fertility goddesses responsible for childbirth and the fertility of the earth. An example is ‘Venus of Willendorf’. They emphasize a powerful fertility. Emphasis is placed on the reproductive qualities of the figure: exaggerated or large breasts, thighs, hips, stomach and buttocks with small arms and legs. Researchers refer to them as ‘Venus’ because they were seen as sexual objects for prehistoric men. Furthermore, in terms of function and form, they were similar to Venus, the Roman version of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, who was portrayed as nude. These figures were believed to charge the barren women of the caves with fertility powers. They were also consulted through rituals to ensure the fertility of the land when prehistoric men and women began agricultural activities in the Neolithic period.
Prehistoric men and women were great thinkers and philosophers who had powerful reasons for their creative creation, which is now serving as the foundation for today’s arts. They must be taught and valued.
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