– Urge to etch and sketch

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South Africa, Blombos
Blombos – stone flake
Blombos – markings
Blombos – etched block
Blombos – sketch
Spain – Maltravieso
Spain – La Pasiege
Spain – El Castillo
Indonesia – Leang Leang
Gibraltar – Gorham’s Cave
Russia – Kapova Cave
Spain – Altamira Caves
Romania – Colboala Cave
France – Chauvet Cave
Australia – Gabarnmang
France – Cosquer Cave
Namibia – Apollo 11
Botswana – Tsodillo Hills
Somaliland – Laas Geel
Australia – Arnhem Land
France – Lascaux caves
France – Roc aux Sorciers
Patagonia – Cave of Hands
Brazil – Pedra Furada
India – Bhimbetka
Spain – Peñas de Cabrera
Spain – Cuevas de la Araña
Algeria – Tassili n’Ajjer
Egypt – Wadi Sura II

Iran – Golpayegan rock art
Norway – Alta
Namibia – Twyfelfontein
Lesotho/SA – Drakensberg
India – Edakkal Caves

Cave art, usually of prehistoric origin, includes paintings, petroglyphs or engravings found on the wall or ceilings of caves. Those from the Upper Paleolithic period have been discovered around the world.

Early discoveries in the Franco-Cantabrian region in western Europe were initially dated to 44,000 years BP (Before Present). The oldest are often constructed from hand stencils and simple geometric shapes.

However, more recently, in 2021, cave art of a pig found in an Indonesian island, has been dated to over 45,500 years. These were noted to be the oldest pictorial record of storytelling and the earliest figurative artwork in the world.


In 2011, along South Africa‘s Garden Route, archaeologists found, east of Still Bay, the earliest cave drawings in Blombos Cave. Here are many examples of San/Bushmen cave art. From the Middle Stone Age, these etchings have been dated to 73,000 BP (before present) and this currently pre-dates all other cave art findings.

[Source: nature.com]
Blombos – this stone flake is claimed as the “earliest drawing” by humankind, The San, or Bushmen, used an ochre-like rock to scribe the red lines. The artefact is silcrete, sand and gravel cemented by dissolved silica.

[Source: bradshawfoundation.com]
These abstract cross-hatched patterns were drawn with an ochre ‘crayon’. The illustration seeks to show how the markings might have looked in full. In the region, the San also created shell beads and experimented with other technologies. These simple patterns are the earliest extant evidence of human cultural activity.

[Source: bradshawfoundation.com]
This is an etched ochre block, showing a similar graphic approach to the drawing above. It shows that the San used different media in their drawings, and illustrates that human cognition of the time already exhibited cultural urges, despite their harsh existence.

[Source: humanjourney.us]
This sketch is again seeking to suggest the overall effect of the etchings.

[Source: humanjourney.us]

Blombos takes pride of place here because it is currently the world’s oldest etching and sketching that we have found. But cave drawings and scribings have been found all over the globe.

64,700 BCE
The Cave of Maltravieso in Extremadura Spain was uncovered in a limestone quarry in 1951. It was found to contain human skulls and the remains of animals, among ceramics and early tools. The researchers found seventy-one negative hand stencils. One of these was dated to 66,700 BP and indicates therefore that this must have been created by a Neanderthal.

[Source: atlasobscura.com]

62,000 BCE
The Cave of La Pasiega in Cantabria on the north coast of Spain has some of the earliest drawings.

These were produced by Neanderthals, modern man would not arrive here for another 20,000 years. It is a 120m long gallery containing Old Stone Age culture [1111-17]

[Source: Wikimedia commons]

38,000 BCE
The nearby El Castillo cave (also in Cantabria) is from the Proto-Aurignacian up to the Bronze Age. There are some 150 identified drawings. Dated to 38,000 BCE it is therefore among the first modern human paintings. An exercise undertaken of such hand prints in Spain and France, established that these were mostly female hands, when previous experts suggested this as a male activity. Of course it still could be males using their females’ hands as templates!

[Source: Wikimedia commons]

43,000 BCE

37,900 BCE
The next oldest was found in the Leang-Leang caves of Sulawesi, Indonesia. This pig drawing is dated to 45,000 BP.
[Source: smithsonianmag.com]

Also found in the Leang Leang caves , Indonesia,were these hand paintings, located in entrances to the caves, thus in brightly lit spaces. The artists created their paint, sucked it into their mouths and blew it out to stencil their hands. The galleries include child-sized hands and several with missing fingers. Other depictions include a babirusa pig-deer, a species unique to the island. This is the earliest example of figurative art.


[Source: edition.cnn.com]
37,000 BCEEtchings in Gorham’s Cave on Gibraltar are dated to 37,000 BCE and are therefore Neanderthal in origin. Neanderthals had largely disppeared by 28,000 BCE, though today we still have a small amount of genealogical trace of the Neanderthal within us

[Editor’s note: to my relief my DNA check showed me at less than 1%, thus below average, on the Neanderthal spectrum.]


[Source: visual-arts-cork.com]

34,400 BCE
The Kapova Cave is on the Burzyansky District of Bashkortostan, Russia, in the southern Ural mountains. There are depictions of horses, mammoths and rhinoceros.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

34,000 BCE
The Altamira Cave in Cantabria, Spain is currently the next milestone along the human cultural trail. It is dated to the Aurignacian period (43,000-26,000 BP). Discovered in 1868, the cave’s charcoal and polychromatic drawings sparked a controversy. Many ‘experts’ argued that prehistoric man lacked the capacity for the abstract thought that these drawings required. But further cave finds confirmed the drawings as Upper Paleolithic and from 36,000 BP.
Image source:

[Source: whc.unesco.org]

33,000 BCE
The Coliboaia Cave in Apuseni Natural Park, Câmpani, Bihor County, Romania was in use on the cusp of the Aurignacian and Gravettian cultures. It was probably therefore inhabited by European early modern humans (EEMH). The drawings feature bison, rhinoceros, bears and some animals not readily identifiable. As these animals had become scarce at the time of the paintings’ dating, they raise doubts about its veracity.
One bison painting was up on the roof of the cave, some two metres off the floor, conjuring up images of an early Michelangelo-like scaffold arrangement.
Image source:

[Source: journeyonearth.com]

30,000 BCE
Chauvet Cave in the Ardèche departement of south-eastern France, it is also known as the Pont d’Arc cave. It was used in the Gravettian period (33,000-22,000 BP) which is considered as the last period when Europe had a unified culture. Thirteen different species have been identified in the drawings. The selected drawing shows a crash of rhinoceroses. There are no human drawings, although there is one drawing that appears to be an incomplete Venus character


[Source: Wikimedia commons]

26,000 BCE
The Gabarnmung shelter in Australia’s Northern Territories were in use 44,000 years ago, and paintings commence there from 28,000 BP, As such this is the oldest securely dated site in Australia. The paintings show crocodiles, fish, wallabies, people and spiritual figures.

[Source: Wikimedia commons]

25,000 BCE
Cosquer Cave near Marseille France contains rock engravings, 150 are extand despite the cave entrance now being below water. Some 65 hand stencils are 27,000 BP, some 177 animals date from 17,000 BP. [1111-26]

[Source: Wikimedia commons]

23,000 BCE
The so-called Apollo 11 cave was Goachanas to locals, but an archaeologist was working in it on the day that Apollo 11 returned to Earth and it gained that nickname. It is in south-west Namibia. Seven quartzite slabs were discovered meaning this is the world’s first luggable art.

[Source: orangesmile.com]

22,000 BCE
Tsodilo Hills, is a collection of caves, rock shelters and depressions in Botswana, that have some 4,500 rock paintings. UNESCO references another souce terming the hills as ‘The Louvre of the Desert’.
The hills have cultural/spiritual importance to the Kalahari’s San or Bush people. As the resting place for spirits of their deceased, no hunting is permitted nearby as this will bring misfortune.

Image sources: joinupsafaris.com

18,000 BCE
Just outside Hargeisa in Somaliland at Laas Geel is a cave system with a number of drawings, some represent the earliest depictions of aurochs (wild cattle) in the Horn of Africa. Somaliland has a number of megaliths and archaeological sites, but its status as a self-declared nation without any significant political acknowledgement does not help its exploitation of these resources. [1111-29]

[Source: Wikimedia commons]

13,000 BCE
The dating of Australian Aboriginal art is still a matter for conjecture. Serious sources suggest the oldest paintings are from 13,000 – 11,000 BCE. Claims of much earlier are frequent, and one charcoal cave painting, in an Arnhem Land Northern Territory cave, has been reliably carbon-dated to 26,000 BCE. A common subject is the cloud and rain spirits, the Wandjina, as in this painting from Mount Elizabeth station, also in Northern Territory.

[Source: aboriginalartuk.com]

13,000 BCE
The Lascaux Caves in France’s Dordogne were opened to the public from 1948 to 1963 to present some 600 cave paintings. But the 1200 visitors/day left heat, humidity and carbon dioxide that was damaging te pictures. Lascaux II is a fabricated version of its Grand Hall of the Bulls for display, first in Paris and later near the caves. Later a Centre of Prehistoric Art was built nearby showing the whole of Lascaux’s treasures as replicas. The painting shown has aurochs, deer and horses

[Source: Wikimedia commons]

12,000 BCE
The Roc aux Sorciers in Vienne, France has a seres of sculpted friezes. These include composed of bison, felines, horses and wild goats, plus the headless and footless figures of women, of the type conventionally called Venuses.

[Source: Wikimedia commons]
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is PatagoniaCuevaManos.jpg
11,000 BCE

In Patagonia (Perito Merino, Argentina) is the Cueva de las Manos (Cave of Hands), probably painted by ancestors of the Tehuelche people. The hands are stencilled silhouettes and therefore mostly depict left hands, presumably because the bone spray-pipes used to paint them were held in the right. The cave also depicts animals and hunting scenes showing their use of bolas. There are also painted patterns.

[Source: Wikimedia commons]

10,000 BCE
The Pedra Furada site in NE Brazil has some 800 archaeological sites. These include cave drawings from 10,000 BCE

[Source: bradshawfoundation.com]

8,000 BCE
The Bhimbetka series of 243 rock shelters were in use 100,000 years ago. They are near Bhopal in the Madhya Pradesh state of central India. Their earliest paintings are 10,000 BP from the Indian Mesolithic period and feature dance, hunting and animals. The one shown here is a reversal of roles with a honed board hunting a man. [1111-35]

[Source: Wikimedia commons]

8,000 BCE
Las Peñas de Cabreram in the Málaga Province, has twenty-five rock shelters with cave art. Most were painted in different shades of red using fingers. Seven of the shelters also have engravings, mostly of cups and bowls.

[Source: Wikimedia commons]

6,000 BCE
Cuevas de la Araña Rock Art (aka Spider caves) are located at Bicorp in Valencia. They are noted for their depictions of a goat hunt, a bow and arrow and a human figure gathering honey.

[Source: Wikimedia commons}

6,000 BCE
The UNESCO site at Tassili n’Ajjer in Algeria has over 15,000 drawings and engravings. These record climactic changes and the local fauna.

[Source:  whc.unesco.org]

5,000 BCE
Rock art, both painted and engraved, has been discovered across the Sahara, from 12,000-10,000 BP when it was wetter and greener. This painting, from Wadi Sura II cave (aka Cave of Beasts) is in the Egyptian Western Desert. It and others provide revealing insights into early African cultures.

[Source: Wikimedia commons]

5,000 BCE
Some 50,000 petroglyphs have been found in Iran, dating back to 5,000 BCE. Pictured here is one of the largest from Golpayegan, it is 12m wide and has over 100 petroglyphs. These were made with flint, metal, or the thigh bones of animals hunted.

[Source: Wikimedia commons]

4,200 BCE
Some 6,000 carvings have been discovered at Alta in northern Norway. It is Norway’s only prehistoric site. The carvings were made betwwen 4,200 and 500 BCE, and show their hunter-gatherer occupations, depict reindeer herding, boat-building and the worship of certain animals, including bears.

[Source: Wikimedia commons]
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Twyfelfontein_4K.jpg
4,000 BCE
Twyfelfontein is another high-frequency area for rock painting in Kunene, Namibia. From 6,000 years ago it was used as a place for ritual worship. Some 5,000 paintings and engravings have been found on flat and upright slabs.

[Source: whc.unesco.org]

2,400 BCE
Drakensberg sits astride the Lesotho/South Africa border and has some 35,000 to 40,000 San artworks. The Sebaayeni Cave has 1,146 individual paintings.

Image source: southafrica.co.za

1,000 BCE
The Edakkal Caves in Kerala are the only evidence of a migrating Indian Neolithic community. The engravings are dated to 1,000 BCE.
Image source Wikimedia commons

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