Art in Olduvai 1,74 Million Years BP, Baboonhead

Baboonhead, Art from Olduvai. 1.74 million years old

Baboonhead, Art from Olduvai. 1.74 million years old

Baboonhead, Olduvai Art
The question when man made his oldest art is important because it points to important mental capacities. In my first book on The History of Man (published in Dutch as ‘geschiedenis van de mens’) I argued that man had developed aesthetic feeling (the appreciation of beauty) through evolution, in the struggle for survival, a Darwinian view.
Art was everything man had made and evoked his aesthetic feeling. A very large definition but one that is necessary because it should cover the timeframe of more than 2 million years and all human cultures.
Three phases could be recognised in this evolution. The first phase in which man thought objects he found the nature were beautiful, e.g. the pebble of Makapansgat. It was not adapted by man, so in our definition it is not art. A second phase in which man retouched objects he found in nature, where he actively engaged. This is art because man changed an object to make it conform with what he found beautiful. All figurines are the Venuses of Berekhat Ram, 233.000/800.000 BP, and Tan Tan, 400.000 BP.
There is however a much older object that was adapted by man. It dates from 1.74 million years ago. That is the period, 1.8 M BP, that man gained control over fire, that acheulean tools were developed and Homo erectus/ergaster appeared. Mary Leakey published an article in 1971 with the results of the excavations in Olduvai between 1960 and 1963. It was in the surroundings that the oldest stone tools of hominids, 2.6 million years old, were found.
Her team had found a cobble of phonolite, a very hard-rock, that was adapted by man. It had a certain, natural resemblance with the head of a monkey. It was named baboonhead. It had a groove that ran around the skull. On the left cheek six cupules had been carved (see illustrations). Cupules would be made by man until recently, so during 1.8 million years. They were found in Africa, in India and were exported by man to Australia and Tasmania and -so to speak- recently in the Americas. A very long-lasting cultural continuity!

These and other finds reinforce the idea that man developed his mental capacities during a very long period and not in a short burst when Homo sapiens appeared.

Dr. Marc Vermeersch
Marc.Vermeersch@gmail.com

Additional information
Mary Leakey writes:
“In concluding this review of the lithic material from Oldowan and
Developed Oldowan Sites the grooved and pecked phonolite cobble found in Upper
Bed I at FLK North must be mentioned. This stone has unquestionably been
artificially shaped. But it seems unlikely that it could have served as a
tool or for any practical purpose. It is conceivable that a parallel exists
in the quartzite cobble found at Makapansgat in which natural weathering has
simulated the carving of two sets of hominid-or mre strictly primate- features
on parts of the surface. The resemblance to primate faces is immediately
obvious in this specimen, although it is entirely natural, whereas in the case
of the Olduvai stone a great deal of imagination is required in order to see
any pattern or significance in the form. With oblique lighting, however,
there is a suggestion of an elongate, baboon-like muzzle with faint
indications of a mouth and nostrils. By what is probably no more than a
coincidence, the pecked groove on the Olduvai stone is reproduced on the
Makapansgat specimen by a similar but natural groove and in both specimens the
positions of the grooves correspond to what would be the base of the hair line
if an anthropomorphic interpretation is considered. This is open to question,
but nevertheless the occurrence of such stones at hominid sites in such remote
periods is of considerable interest.”
M.D. Leakey, Olduvai Gorge3 Excavations in Beds I and II, 1960-1693, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), Vol. 3, p. 269

If you are interested in art you might like these blogs:
Art in Olduvai 1,74 Million Years BP, Baboonhead Rather unknown, undeserved, the oldest known art in the world
The Origin of Aesthetic Feeling and Art Fundamental: How our aesthetic feeling originated in reproduction of man, a darwinian explanation.
The oldest statuettes adapted by man are between 233,000 and 800,000 years old
“Lion Man”, the oldest statuette with a combination man-animal ‘Der Löwenmensch” was found in Germany.
The oldest Love Statuette in the World They keep on loving for ever in the British Luseeum.
A virtual visit to the Lascaux Cave is mind blowing!
Nerja Caves: the oldest Cave Art in Europe, 42,000 years old Rock paintings , probably made by neanderthals

7000 BP: The Thinker and the Sitting Woman

The Thinker and the Sitting Woman. Hamangia culture, Romania, 7000 - 6600 years ago.

The Thinker and the Sitting Woman. Hamangia culture, Romania, 7000 – 6600 years ago.

In history, there are works of art that have a special place and that almost everyone knows: the golden mask of Tuthankhamun, the Pantheon in Rome, the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, the sunflowers of Van Gogh, … an endless list. Art works from a much older past are barely known to the general public but often they earn to be known. Some have of an extraordinary quality. One of my favourite works in this regard is “The Thinker and the Sitting Woman” thatwere found in Romania and are between 6,600 and 7,000 years old.

We know that these people were farmers. Chances are that they were resting after a day of working. The woman sits relaxed just like the man. He is thinking. About what is open for speculation.

A paradox

Both statuettes have a modern look. If we would see them for the first time, without prior knowledge, then we might think that these are very recent works of art, that is not more than 100 years old. Compare The Thinker with the bronze statue of Rodin[1], ‘Le penseur’, from 1902. We may spontaneously think that this is older than ‘The Thinker and the Sitting Woman ‘.

Rodin, statue known as 'Le penseur' (The thinker). Rodin created it as an image of Dante Aleghieri, the Italian writer. Its was 'The Poet'

Rodin, statue known as ‘Le penseur’ (The thinker). Rodin created it as an image of Dante Aleghieri, the Italian writer. Its was ‘The Poet’

Surprisingly, it is also true that some very old works of art sometimes show style characteristics that were reinvented in the 20th century. Paul Levy wrote about ‘The Thinker and the Sitting Woman’: “Their elongated necks and small heads are compellingly reminiscent of Matisse and the Cubist painters and sculptors, and a curator told me that it is just possible that Brancusi saw them.”[2]

Egyptian royal couple.  27th century BCE. Very static in comparison with 'The Thinker and the Sitting Woman'

Egyptian royal couple. 27th century BCE. Very static in comparison with ‘The Thinker and the Sitting Woman’

Hamangia culture. Headless stauette. Very stylised. It was probably worn as part of a necklace.

Hamangia culture. Headless stauette. Very stylised. It was probably worn as part of a necklace.

The Hamangia culture and woodworking

The Hamangia culture in Romania began around 5250/5200 BCE and lasted until around 4550/4500 BCE. It was a culture of farmers who lived in small communities, without a state. Technically, they were at the same level as the first European farmers that came from Anatolia had moved to Europe more than 1000 years before. The statuettes were found in 1956. They were made of clay and baked in an oven. Remarkable is that the man sits on a small stool. It is one of the oldest depictions of furniture in history. Such a seat is not difficult to make but like so many things it is very difficult inventing it, starting from zero. The stool indicates that almost 7,000 years ago farmers in South-East Europe had developed woodworking and the necessary stone tools.

The figurines ‘ the thinker and the seated woman’ undoubtedly belong in the gallery of the greatest works of art created by man. Today they look as fresh and intriguing as almost 7000 years ago.

Marc.Vermeersch@gmail.com


[1] The statue of Rodin was originally called the poet and represented Alegieri Dante
[2] Paul Levy, Beautiful Ashmolean Exhibition Offers Glimpse of ‘Old Europe’, May 21, 2010. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB127438940492094541.html

If you are interested in art you might like these blogs:
Art in Olduvai 1,74 Million Years BP, Baboonhead Rather unknown, undeserved, the oldest known art in the world
The Origin of Aesthetic Feeling and Art Fundamental: How our aesthetic feeling originated in reproduction of man, a darwinian explanation.
The oldest statuettes adapted by man are between 233,000 and 800,000 years old
“Lion Man”, the oldest statuette with a combination man-animal ‘Der Löwenmensch” was found in Germany.
The oldest Love Statuette in the World They keep on loving for ever in the British Luseeum.
A virtual visit to the Lascaux Cave is mind blowing!
Nerja Caves: the oldest Cave Art in Europe, 42,000 years old Rock paintings , probably made by neanderthals

Nerja Caves: the oldest Cave Art in Europe, 42,000 years old

Rock Art of the Nerja Caves (ES) is 42,000 years old

Rock Art of the Nerja Caves (ES) is 42,000 years old

The title of one of my previous blogs was “Chauvet Cave, the oldest known cave art in Europe“. This title has to be changed. A fortnight ago (feb. 11, 2012)  professor Jose Luis Sanchidrian (University of Corboba) announced that six cave paintings had been found in the Nerja Caves 35 km from Malaga (Andalusia, Spain). Datings done on organic deposits beside the paintings gave an age between 43,500 and 42,300 years. In 2013 results of datings of the paintings themselves should be published.

The pictured animals resemble seals but bear stripes. An observer thought they might represent a kind of fish species.
The most important of this find is that it is 10,000 years older than the rock paintings of the Chauvet Cave (F). Chauvet with an age up to 32,500 years seems suddenly much younger and Lascaux, up to 17,000 years old, suddenly seems young, some 25,000 years younger than the finds in the Nerja Caves.
This find could be very important for another reason.
Painted by neanderthalensis or by sapiens?
So far it was assumed that Neanderthals lived South of the Ebro at least 28,000 years ago or more recent. They made stone tools that technically belonged to the mousterian which corresponded with what Neanderthals produced until the arrival of Homo sapiens in Europe.
Recently it was argued by some researchers that Homo sapiens arrived in Europe much earlier than was accepted until recently. They suppose modern man arrived around 40,000 years ago. To be followed.
Professor Sanchidrian thinks the paintings were made by neanderthals. If we are naughty, we would ask whether Homo sapiens took over rock paintings from … Neanderthals. To be followed.
It is remarkable that these paintings represent animals just as the paintings of the much younger caves in France and Spain which were undoubtedly made by Homo sapiens. Was totemism a part of neanderthal culture?
Source: La prima obra de arte de la humanidad, ¿hecha por neandertales? http://www.abc.es/20120207/cultura-arte/abci-primera-obra-arte-humanidad-201202071253.html
If you are interested in art you might like these blogs:
Art in Olduvai 1,74 Million Years BP, Baboonhead Rather unknown, undeserved, the oldest known art in the world
The Origin of Aesthetic Feeling and Art Fundamental: How our aesthetic feeling originated in reproduction of man, a darwinian explanation.
The oldest statuettes adapted by man are between 233,000 and 800,000 years old
“Lion Man”, the oldest statuette with a combination man-animal ‘Der Löwenmensch” was found in Germany.
The oldest Love Statuette in the World They keep on loving for ever in the British Luseeum.
A virtual visit to the Lascaux Cave is mind blowing!
Nerja Caves: the oldest Cave Art in Europe, 42,000 years old Rock paintings , probably made by neanderthals

The Origin of Aesthetic Feeling and Art

The Makapansgat pebble was taken by an australopithecus to its cave

The Makapansgat pebble was taken by an australopithecus to its cave, between 2.5 and 3 million years ago

People have (a gift for) aesthetic feeling, the capacity to recognize beauty. It is through the senses that feelings and ideas that evoke a sense beauty are recognized by the brain of man. This gift is probably the result of three aspects that have a strong connection with the reproduction of man. That this gift may already exist in a forerunner of man is possible. In Makapansgat (South Africa) a pebble was discovered that has a likeness with a face. The australopithecus that found this pebble, between 2.5 and 3 million years ago, must have found the similarity with a face beautiful and took it to his cave. Australopithecus had aesthetic feeling.

 First aspect. Sight is as far as aesthetic feeling is concerned probably the most important of the senses. People like other people. Hunters and gatherers could not live without their clan. The African San, better known under their old name Bushmen, e.g. paid frequent and long visits to neighboring groups. There was the attraction for the other (or same) sex. People are passionate about other people, their eyes, their voice, their ways of moving, their play, their touches and so on.

Second aspect. People usually have much interest in animals. Chimpanzees and bonobos also have a large, spontaneous interest in animals. People love animals, they observe, learn to know their behaviors and share their interest and love for animals. For many hunters and gatherers this interest was closely related with the fact that animals were their most prized food. They had a great anatomical knowledge of animals and knew about the biological similarity between man and animal. The behaviour of humans and animals showed a lot of similarities: care for the young, aggression, flight, hunting tactics and so on.

The sight of animals that could serve as food for humans had to provoke a ‘good feeling ‘ and that is essentially nothing else than the emotion of beauty which is aesthetic feeling.

A third aspect was plant food. To find edible food, leaves, fruit, nuts and so on man had to recognize odors, colors, textures, patterns, shapes, sounds and so on. He also liked colors and shapes in landscapes, looked at the sky and liked or disliked the weather that was coming. All these feelings provoked a good feeling, which is a feeling of beauty. This capacity was an advantage in gathering plants, in evaluating where the clan had to move to find food.  

The enthusiasm of man for humans, animals and plants and their derived shapes, colors, gestures, drawings, in theatre, singing etc. is in its origin is closely linked to the reproduction of man. Thinking of something as beautiful is connected with life, with reproduction, with other people and with food: a tree with ripe fruit, edible leaves, a weakened animal, to recognize a potential partner and the enthusiasm that this awakens. On this basis man could like an infinite number of combinations and derivatives.

This aesthetic sense is part of the creative intelligence of man has. It is obvious  that smell, feeling, hearing, and taste are heavily involved in finding food and partners. Hearing allows us to appreciate sounds like singing and music. What we like with our senses, what we think is beautiful or pleasant is strongly influenced by the culture that we inherited. Summarized: properties that were developed in humans and essential for the (re)production of people and food were the basis for a highly developed aesthetic sense.

What is Art?

What is not is made by man may appeal to the aesthetic sense but is not considered art. Art is everything that is created by man and awakens his aesthetic sense. One may think that a natural landscape is beautiful but that is not art in this definition, because it is part of nature, not man made. Any realization by a human or humans may be art for someone: this may be a tool, a building, music, perfume, a car, a poem, a song, a sound, a theatre piece, an ashtray, an abstract drawing or a painting with a gypsy woman.

marc.i.vermeersch@gmail.com

If you are interested in art you might like these blogs:
Art in Olduvai 1,74 Million Years BP, Baboonhead 
Rather unknown, undeserved, the oldest known art in the world

The Origin of Aesthetic Feeling and Art Fundamental: How our aesthetic feeling originated in reproduction of man, a darwinian explanation.

7000 BP: The Thinker an the Sitting Woman

Chauvet Cave, the oldest known cave art in Europe The recently discovered cave shows that the European late palaeolithic culture lasted at least 20,000 years.

The oldest statuettes adapted by man are between 233,000 and 800,000 years old.

The oldest European Venus figurine was found in the Hohle Fels cave (Germany) It is between 35,000 and 40,000 years old.

“Lion Man”, the oldest statuette with a combination man-animal ‘Der Löwenmensch” was found in Germany.

The oldest Love Statuette in the World They keep on loving for ever in the British Museum.

A virtual visit to the Lascaux Cave is mind blowing!

Chauvet Cave, the 2nd oldest known cave art in Europe

Chauvet Cave, rhinoceroses

Chauvet Cave, rhinoceroses

The oldest known cave art in Europe is the Chauvet Cave in France. It is a rather recent discovery (1994) in comparison with the well known Lascaux Cave (1940). The rock art of both caves is comparable for their style but also because they are an expression of the same genius.

The oldest paintings from the Chauvet Cave were made by hunters and gatherers around 32,400 years ago. Man had probably long traditions in making art on skins, wood and tattooing his own body. The makers of this rock art may have discussed what they would paint and how to do it. They had to make strenuous efforts to make these paintings. They had to crawl  in the dark through long and narrow corridors with their material. Paint had to be taken in their mouth and sprawled on the rock, often from a very uncomfortable position.

Lascaux is, with paintings up to 17,000 years old, much younger than Chauvet. Time between today and Lascaux is about as much as between Lascaux and Chauvet. The paintings of another cave famous for its paintings, Altamira  (Cantabria, Spain), is estimated to be 15,000 years old.

On the follwing link you will find a trailer of a coming documentary made by Werner Herzog on the Chauvet Cave, the ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams’ . http://vimeo.com/18964665

Dr. Marc Vermeersch. The oldest known cave art in Europe:
Nerja Caves: the oldest Cave Art in Europe, 42,000 years old Rock paintings , probably made by neanderthals.
The oldest known art in the world: Art in Olduvai 1,74 Million Years BP, Baboonhead Rather unknown, but undeserved,

If you are interested in art you might also like these blogs:
The Origin of Aesthetic Feeling and Art Fundamental: How our aesthetic feeling originated in reproduction of man, a darwinian explanation.
The oldest statuettes adapted by man are between 233,000 and 800,000 years old
“Lion Man”, the oldest statuette with a combination man-animal ‘Der Löwenmensch” was found in Germany.
The oldest Love Statuette in the World They keep on loving for ever in the British Luseeum.
A virtual visit to the Lascaux Cave is mind blowing!

Parts of this blog were taken from ‘Marc Vermeersch. De geschiedenis van de mens. Deel I. Jagers en verzamelaars. Boek 2, de maatschappij van jagers en verzamelaars. p.185.

Chauvet Cave Art (France) Horses bisons rihoncerosses 31,000 BP

Chauvet Cave Art (France) Horses bisons rihnoceros 31,000 BP

Chauvet Cave Art (France) Horses, bisons rihnoceros 31,000 BP

Chauvet (France) Cave Art. Lion/lionesses heads.

Chauvet (France) Cave Art. Engraving of an owl.

Chauvet (France) Cave Art. Engraving of an owl.

The Chauvet has not only paintings but also engravings such as this beautiful owl.

Chauvet (France) Cave Art painting of hyena's. 20,000 BP.

Chauvet (France) Cave Art painting of hyena’s. 20,000 BP.

Chauvet (France) Cave Art painting of hyena’s. 20,000 BP. At that time hyena’s were living since a long time in Europe.

If you are interested in art you might like these blogs:
Art in Olduvai 1,74 Million Years BP, Baboonhead
7000 BP: The Thinker an the Sitting Woman
The oldest statuettes adapted by man
“Lion Man”, the oldest statuette with a combination man-animal
The oldest Love Statuette in the World
Chauvet Cave, the oldest known cave art in Europe
A virtual visit to the Lascaux Cave
Nerja Caves: the oldest Cave Art in Europe, 42,000 years old Rock paintings , probably made by neanderthals
general:
The origin of aesthetic Feeling and Art Basic text about the significance of art in a darwinian point of view.

7000 BP. The Thinker and the Sitting Woman. Two extraordinary statuettes from Romania.

The oldest Cartoons in the World? 14,000 BP They were engraved in the La Marche Cave in France. They are as fresh as they were 14,000 years ago.