Evolutionary Psychology
Communication Studies
Paleolithic Art
(revised 14 February 2013)



Sites | Dating | Analysis | Bibliography | Links

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Major sites


Twin Rivers -- currently being excavated; pigments between 350,000 and 400,000 years old

Earliest evidence of art found. BBC News report, 2 May, 2000. Full text (external).

Barham, Larry (1999). From art and tools came human origins. British Archaeology 42. Full text (external).

Kapthurin Formation -- excavated in the late 1990s; pigments around 240,000 years old

Gutin, J.A. (1996). Do Kenya tools root birth of modern thought in Africa? Science 270: 1118-1119.

McBrearty, S., L.C. Bishop, & J.D. Kingston (1996). Variability in traces of Middle Pleistocene hominid behavior in the Kapthurin Formation, Baringo, Kenya. Journal of Human Evolution 30:563-580.

McBrearty, S. (1999). Archaeology of the Kapthurin Formation. In Andrews, P. and P. Banham, eds. Late Cenozoic Environments and Hominid Evolution: a Tribute to Bill Bishop. London: Geological Society of London, pp. 143-156.

McBrearty, Sally and Alison S. Brooks (2000). The revolution that wasn't: a new interpretation of the origin of modern human behavior. Journal of Human Evolution 39. 5: 453-563.

Blombos Cave, South Africa -- ongoing excavations; ochre, tools, and beads; dates around 75 kya
Project site

Engravings on ochre from Blombos Cave
Henshilwood, Christopher, et al. (2002). Emergence of Modern Human Behavior: Middle Stone Age Engravings from South Africa. Science 295. 5558: 1278-1280, 15 February 2002. Full text (external). NSF press release with photographs.

Marine shell beads from Blombos Cave

Henshilwood, Christopher, F. d’Errico, M. Vanhaeren, K. van Niekerk, Z. Jacobs (2004). Middle Stone Age Shell Beads from South Africa. Science 304. 5669: 404 , 16 April 2004. Full text (external). News report (Guardian).

Project site photographs
Ostrich shell bead from Loiyangalani Loiyangalani River Valley, Serengeti Plain, Tanzania-- excavated in 2003, ostrich egg beads dated tentatively to 70 kya, results not yet published
Serengeti Genesis, project site

Hathaway, James (2004). East African artifacts support evolution of symbolic thinking in Middle Stone Age. Press release, Arizona State University, 31 March 2003. Full text (external)

Mayell, Hillary (2004). Is Bead Find Proof Modern Thought Began in Africa? National Geographic, 31 March 2004. Full text (external)

Ostrich beads indicate early symbolic thought. New Scientist 31 March 2004. Full text (external)


Direct evidence that pigments were used ritually (in a burial) in Australia around 40,000 years ago.

Thorne, Alan (1999). Australia's Oldest Human Remains: Age of the Lake Mungo 3 Skeleton. Journal of Human Evolution 36: 591-612. News report.


More than 300 caves or shelters with Paleolithic paintings and/or engravings have been discovered in multiple locations in Europe, from Andalucía in Spain to the Urals in Russia.


Creswell Crags -- discovered in 2003, the engravings are at least 12,800 years old

BBC News coverage
Britain's 'earliest' prehistoric cave art (16 June 2003)
'Sistine Chapel of the Ice Age' (13 July 2003)
Experts put date to UK rock art (25 April 2005)


Altamira -- discovered in 1879, paintings date from 14,000 to 16,000 year ago

The cave of Altamira (1999). Photographs by Pedro A. Saura Ramos, with essays by Matilde Muzquiz Perez-Seoane et al. New York, NY: Harry Abrams.

Reviewed by Lawrence Guy Straus (1999). Journal of Anthropological Research 55. 3 (Fall): 457 (4 pages).

Berenguer, Magin (1994). Prehistoric cave art in Northern Spain, Asturias. Cuidad de Mexico: Frente de Afirmacion Hispanista.


Chauvet -- discovered in 1994, paintings dated to 32,000-30,000 years ago

Grotte Chauvet -- Pont-d'Arc. French Ministry of Culture.

Clottes, Jean (2003). Return to Chauvet Cave: Excavating the Birthplace of Art: the First Full Report. London: Thames and Hudson.

Chauvet, Jean-Marie, Eliette Brunel Deschamps, and Christian Hillaire (1996). Dawn of art. The Chauvet Cave: the oldest known paintings in the world. New York, NY: H.N. Abrams. Abstract.

Reviewed by E.H. Gombrich (1996). New York Review of Books 43. 18 (Nov 14, 1996): 8 (4 pages).

Clottes, Jean (1996). Thematic changes in Upper Paleolithic art: a view from the Grotte Chauvet. Antiquity 268. Selections (external).

Clottes, Jean (1997). An extraordinary archaeological find: a decorated Paleolithic cave in the Ardèche region of France. Ministry of Culture, France. Full text (external).

Conkey, Margaret (1999) Inside Grotte Chauvet: Encountering the First Cave Paintings. California Wild 54. 3 (summer). Full text (external).

Jaroff, Leon (1995). Window on the Stone Age. Time 145. 4 (Jan 30, 1995): 80 (2 pages). Full text.

Cosquer -- discovered in 1991, paintings and engravings from 27,000 and 18,500 years ago

Cosquer Cave -- official French government site, with virtual visit

Clottes, Jean, and Jean Courtin (1993). Neptune's Ice Age gallery. Natural History 102. 4 (April): 64 (8 pages). Abstract.

Clottes, Jean, and Jean Courtin (1993). The Cave Beneath the Sea: Paleolithic Images at Cosquer. 103 color plates. New York : H.N. Abrams. Overview.

Cussac -- discovered in late 2000, engravings dating to more than 22,000 years ago

Grotte Cussac. French Ministry of Culture.

Cave reveals spectacular secrets. BBC News report, 4 July, 2001. Full text (external)

Images from Cussac from Archaeometry.org

Lascaux -- discovered in 1940, paintings and engravings from 17,000 to 18,500 years ago

Grotte Lascaux. French Ministry of Culture.

Christensen, Jesper (1996). Heaven and earth in ice age art: topography and iconography at Lascaux. Mankind Quarterly 36. 3-4 (Spring/Summer): 247 (13 pages).

Clottes, Jean (1999). The Artists of Lascaux: The Roots of Fine Art Run Deep into Our Past. Discovering Archaeology 6 (November-December). Full text (external).

Whitehouse, David (2000). Ice Age star map discovered. BBC News, 9 August. Full text (external).


Rappenglück, Michael (2002). Faces on the floor of La Marche cave. Interview by BBC News. Cf. INFIS.


Creswell Crags -- the engravings were discovered in 2003 in a cave long known to contain Stone Age artifacts

Bahn, Paul, Paul Pettitt, and Sergio Ripoll (2003). "Discovery of Palaeolithic Cave Art in Britain." Antiquity 77. 296. BBC story.


Ach Valley -- figurines from 30,000 years ago

Conard, N. J. (2003). Palaeolithic ivory sculptures from southwestern Germany and the origins of figurative art. Nature, 426, 830 - 832. Nature summary. BBC story.


Bednarik, Robert G. (1995). The Coa petroglyphs: an obituary to the stylistic dating of Palaeolithic rock-art. Antiquity 69. 266 (Dec): 877 (7 pages). Full text.

Clottes, Jean (1996). Thematic changes in Upper Paleolithic art: a view from the Grotte Chauvet. Antiquity 268. Selections (external).

Roberts, Richard et al. (1997). Luminescence dating of rock art and past environments using mud-wasp nests in northern Australia. Nature 387. 6634 (June 12, 1997): 696 (4 pages). Abstract.

Roberts, Richard et al. (1998). Optical and radiocarbon dating at Jinmium rock shelter in northern Australia. Nature 393. 6683 (May 28, 1998): 358 (5 pages). Abstract. Science magazine research news (external).

Züchner, Christian (1998). Grotte Chauvet archaeologically dated. Communication at the International Rock Art Congress, Vila Real, Portugal. Full text (external).

Valladas, H., H. Cachier, P. Maurice, F. Bernaldo de Quiros, and others (1992). Direct radiocarbon dates for prehistoric paintings at the Altamira, El Castillo and Niaux caves. (Spain and France). Nature 357. 6373 (May 7): 68 (3 pages).

Valladas, Helene et al. (2001). Palaeolithic paintings: Evolution of prehistoric cave art. Nature 413. 479 (2001). Abstract. BBC coverage (external).

Current analysis

Bednarik, Robert G. (1994). A taphonomy of palaeoart. Antiquity 68. 258 (March): 68 (7 pages). Full text.

Bednarik, Robert G. (1995). Concept-mediated marking in the lower palaeolithic. Current Anthropology 36. 4 (August-Oct): 605 (30 pages). Abstract.

Mithen, Steven (1996). On Early Paleolithic 'concept-mediated marks,' mental modularity, and the origins of art. Current Anthropology 37. 4 (August-Oct): 666 (5 pages). Abstract.

Bednarik, Robert G. (1998). The first stirrings of creation. UNESCO Courier (April): 4 (6 pages). Full text.

Cheyne, J. A. (1998). Signs of Consciousness: Speculations on the Psychology of Paleolithic Graphics. Full text (external).

Clottes, Jean and and David Lewis-Williams (1998). The shamans of prehistory: trance and magic in the painted caves. New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams. Review. See also overview article by Clottes.

Conkey, Margaret, Olga Soffer, and Deborah Stratmann (eds) (1997). Beyond Art: Pleistocene Image and Symbol. San Francisco, CA: California Academy of Sciences: Distributed by University of California Press. See sample pages (external).

Guthrie, R. Dale (2004). The Nature of Paleolithic Art.  Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. Review.

Halverson, John (1992). Paleolithic art and cognition. Journal of Psychology 126. 3 (May): 221 (16 pages). Abstract.

Jones, Jonathan (2002). 30,000 years of modern art. BBC Online. Full text.

Lewis-Williams, J.D. and T.A. Dowson, T.A. (1998). The signs of all times: entoptic phenomena in Upper Palaeolithic art. Current Anthropology 29. 2 (April): 201 (17 pages).

Bahn, Paul G.; Bandi, H.G.; Bednarik, Robert G.; Clegg, John; and others (1988). Comments. Current Anthropology 29. 2 (April): 217 (16 pages).

Lewis-Williams, J.D.; Dowson, T.A. (1998) Reply. Current Anthropology 29. 2 (April): 232 (14 pages).

Lewis-Williams, J.D. and Dowson, T.A. (1990). On Paleolithic art and the neuropsychological model. Current Anthropology 31. 4 (August-Oct): 407 (2 pages).

Bednarik, Robert G. (1990). On neuropsychology and shamanism in rock art. Current Anthropology 31. 1 (Feb): 77 (8 pages).

Lewis-Williams, David (2002). The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art. New York, NY: Thames and Hudson.

Abstract: What prompted people to undertake hazardous journeys into the dark inner reaches of caves to carve or paint animals and other features onto the rock faces? David Lewis-Williams draws thoughts from the paintings themselves, from anthropology and neurological science, to propose an important link between the paintings and altered states of consciousness. Assessing the effects of sensory deprivation, dreams and hallucinations and the point at which, during human evolution, man was able to discern and make sense of these, he examines the interaction between mental activity and social context. Drawing on evidence from San rock art of South Africa, the art of the early people of North America and the Upper Palaeolithic art of western Europe, this study looks at the origins of art and image-making. 320p, 94 illus (27 in col).

Verpoorte. Alexander (2001). Human figures in portable art of the European Upper Palaeolithic Places of art, traces of fire: a contextual approach to anthropomorphic figurines in the Pavlovian (Central Europe, 29-24 kyr BP). ASLU 8, Leiden University Faculty of Archaeology.

Abstract: Anthropomorphic figurines are one of the most discussed instances of Palaeolithic Art. This study provides an overview of such objects in the Pavlovian, an Upper Palaeolithic archaeological culture in Central Europe. The author describes the sites, their chronology and interpretations. The objects, belonging to the oldest "ceramic" objects in the world, are analysed in terms of raw material, technology, form and spatial distribution. In the second part, the author discusses three themes in the interpretative history: the question of representation and realism, the relationship between anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines, and the issue of the purport of the find location itself. 141p, 103 figs, 21 tabs.

Rock art acoustics

Dauvois, Michel and Xavier Boutillon (1990). Études acoustiques au Reseau Clastres: Salle des Peintures et lithophones naturels. Préhistoire ariègeoise 45: 175-186. ill.

Reznikoff, Iegor and Michel Dauvois (1988). Dimension sonore des grottes orneées.
Paris: Bulletin, Societé Préhistorique Française 85. 8: 238-246.

Reviewed by Chris Scarre (1989). Painting by Resonance. Nature, vol 338, 382. Full text.

Waller, Steven J. (1993). Sound and rock art. Nature 363. 6429 (June 10): 501. Abstract.

Related review by Leigh Dayton (1992). Rock art evokes beastly echoes of the past. New Scientist, 28 November. page 14. Abstract.

Steven J. Waller's Home Page. Extensive resources on rock art acoustics.

Theoretical frameworks

Calvin, William H. (1990). The Ascent of Mind: Ice Age Climates and the Evolution of Intelligence. New York, NY: Bantam. Selections (external, with further references).

Donald, Merlin (1991). Origins of the Modern Mind. Three stages in the evolution of culture and cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Abstract.

Fauconnier, Gilles and Mark Turner (2002). The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind's Hidden Complexities. New York, NY: Basic Books. Forthcoming. Publisher's presentation (external).

Leroi-Gourhan, A. 1971. Prehistoire de l'art accidental. Paris: Mazenod.

Mithen, Steven (1997). The Prehistory of the Mind: The Cognitive Origins of Art, Religion and Science. Reviewed by Howard Gardner. Interview by Anjana Ahuja.

General bibliography

Bahn, Paul G. (1998). The Cambridge illustrated history of prehistoric art. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Bahn, Paul G. and Angelo Fossati (2003). Rock Art Studies: News of the World II. Developments in Rock Art Research 1995-1999. Oxbow Books.

Publisher's abstract: This collection, the second in a planned series of five-yearly volumes, is devoted to providing a wide-ranging survey of new developments in rock art studies from all over the world. The variety of topics reported on in this volume reflect an expansion and diversification of perspectives and research questions during the period covered, 1995 to 1999; these topics include the problems of dating rock art, pigment analysis, interpretative issues, the recording and preservation of sites, eco-tourism, management, and indigenous issues. Several major events are reported in the volume, the most remarkable being the saving of Portugal's Coa Valley rock art from destruction by a dam, the creation of an archaeological park around it, and its entry into the Unesco World Heritage List, all in rapid succession. 288p, 178 b/w figs, 3 tbs.

Bednarik, Robert G. (1992). Palaeolithic art found in China. (13,000-year-old decorated antler fragment from Longgu Cave near Xinglong, Hebei Province). Nature 356. 6365 (March 12): 116.

Clotte, Jean (2002). World Rock Art. Los Angeles, CA: J. Paul Getty Trust.

Publisher's abstract: World Rock Art is a colourful introduction to the rock art of the Americas, Europe, Africa, Australia and Asia, presenting superb colour photographs of many of the most important sites. Throughout the book Jean Clottes addresses the issues of the discovery and recording of sites, dating, the meaning of the art, its significance to modern society and what steps are being taken to preserve sites across the world. A good authoritative study. 140p, many col pls.

Deregowski, J.B. (1996). A man is a difficult beast to draw: the neglected determinant in rock art. NEWS'96, Swakopmund, Namibia. Full text (pdf).

Duhard, Jean-Pierre (1993). Upper Palaeolithic figures as a reflection of human morphology and social organization. Antiquity 67. 254 (March): 83 (9 pages). Full text.

Garlake, Peter S. (1995). The Hunter's vision: the prehistoric art of Zimbabwe. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.

Hauser, Arnold (1962). The Social History of Art. Vol. I: From Prehistoric Times to the Middle Ages. Ch. 1: Prehistoric times. Old stone age: Magic and naturalism. Full text (pp. 1-8).

Imber, Claire (2000). Ape-man: Origin of sophistication. BBC News report, 22 February. Full text (external).

Neumayer, Erwin. Lines on stone: the prehistoric rock art of India. New Delhi: Manohar, 1993.

Michaelsen, Per, Tasja W. Ebersole, Noel W. Smith and Paul Biro (2000). Australian Ice Age rock art may depict earth's oldest recordings of shamanistic rituals. Mankind Quarterly XLI. 2 (Winter).

Solomon, Anne (1996). Rock art in Southern Africa. Scientific American 275. 5 (Nov, 1996):106 (8 pages). Abstract.

Further resources

Google's directory lists major resources in paleolithic art and in the archaeology of the paleolithic.

Prehistoric Art. A compilation of links by Chris Whitcombe, Professor of Art, Sweet Briar College, VA.


The Sorcerer at Trois Freres (Abbe Breuil)





Maintained by Francis F. Steen, Communication Studies, University of California Los Angeles