Left wall of the Hall of Bulls, 15,000BC, Lascaux, France

In 1940, paintings were discovered on the walls of a cave in Lascaux, France. These paintings were 17,000 years old and created by ancient stone age people! They were not the first cave art discovered or the oldest, but they are thought to be the best cave art yet known.

Scientists know from what was found in the caves that the artists painted by "candlelight', a wick of hair or moss in a stone cup of animal fat. They used flat stones as palettes on which to mix their paints. They made those paints themselves out of local plants, soils and minerals, especially red and yellow ocher. They drew using chunks of those minerals like crayons. They painted either by blowing the ground-up minerals through a blowpipe or by mixing them in animal fat and painting them on with a reed brush. The artists stayed in the caves for long hours at a time, often eating their meals as they worked on their paintings.

The artists were probably very important people in their tribes. Their work was considered magical, important to keeping the tribe alive. The pictures painted were mostly of animals the tribe might want to hunt. Painting the animal might lead to successfully hunting it for food. There is some evidence that the tribe may have thought the pictures themselves were alive.

The caves at Lascaux are filled not only with thousands of paintings, but also with engravings scraped into stone with flint blades. The amazing thing is that all these artworks were put on the walls far back into the caves, away from any light. They were not painted where the stone age men would have lived (that would have been near the cave entrance). Also, the places where the art is found are often very difficult to get to because of rocks, stalagmites, and other obstacles.

Engraved Reindeer, 15,000BC, Lascaux, France

The pictures of animals and sometimes people are often arranged with geometric shapes, odd marks, and handprints. Some people believe these odd additions are some sort of early written language. Most historians imagine they are more like symbols that add to the magic the art was supposed to bring about.

Spotted Horses with Handprints, 15,000BC, Pech-Merle, France

Prehistoric Art