We live in towns and with our neighbors directly influences the Neolithic Revolution that occurred some 11,500-5,000 years ago.
The Neolithic era (New Stone Age) evolved from its predecessors’ traditionally nomadic and semi-nomadic lifestyle. Large settlements, farming, and domestication of animals replaced the hunting and gathering-all observed to this day.
This article compiles the ten surviving paintings of the Neolithic period scattered over the globe.
10. Burrup Peninsula Rock Engravings
Burrup Peninsula is also known as Murujuga, which means hip bone sticking out in the Ngayarda language of the Jaburara people of the peninsula. Situated next to Dampier Archipelago in the Pilbara area of Western Australia, it houses one of the biggest collections of aboriginal paintings in the world.
Petroglyphs and prehistoric rock engravings are the direct testimonies to the many and various subjects and motifs of the Neolithic age. Researchers have found depictions of the Tasmanian tiger (thylacine), the extinct megafauna.
Similarly, many human figures have been found scattered on the site, representing the everyday and ceremonial activities. It also contains a wide variety of megalithic art and megaliths (standing stones), and other caches of prehistoric articles.
The art at Burrup Peninsula is yet to be scientifically counted. Still, it is assumed that as many as one million images have been etched or incised into the stone surface. There is no certainty about who created those art images, but the people believe that marga or ancestral creator beings did in the Dreaming.
They belong to the Neolithic period and the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Upper Paleolithic periods.
9. Ubbir Rock Paintings
At the edge of the Nadab floodplain in the lands of the Gagudju people lies the famous Uber Rock or Obiri Rock. It is mostly known for prehistoric housing art, some of which date as much as 30, 000 BCE.
However, most of the art engraved is believed to be from the Neolithic era, and the earliest art is the Nawarla Gabarnmang charcoal drawing (c. 26, 000 BCE).
The artworks are kept within the confines of galleries such as the Main Gallery. The Main Gallery is housed below a hanging rock, comprising of much aboriginal cave art. Another one is the Rainbow Serpent Gallery.
Rainbow Serpent was a creation ancestor who imprinted herself to remind people of her existence. The rocks showcase a wide variety of images of human figures and animals, including the scenes associated with Dreamtime.
They also illustrate the three main periods of Pre-estuarine (c. 40,000-6000 BC), Estuarine (c. 6000BC-500AD), and Freshwater (c. 500AD-present). This makes Ubbir Rock Paintings the longest continuously practiced series of art in the world.
Some of the oldest art consists of prints of hands and other objects, approximately between 40,000 and 10,000 BCE. It should be noted that the age of these arts has not been scientifically verified.
Near the entrance is a portrait of the thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger, which is now extinct. The paintings include the earliest human interaction with the surrounding environment. Moreover, they exude extraordinarily intriguing elements in them. It is one of the contributing reasons for Kakadu’s dual World Heritage status.
8. El Castillo Cave Paintings
The cave of El Castillo or Cave of the Castle is best known for, among others, one of the oldest paintings ever discovered. The Gallery of Hands is one amazing rock art known for its hand stencils and abstract signs. Hand stencils date back to c. 37,300 BCE, while the Red-ochre or Large Red Dot below it is dated to c. 39,000 BCE.
Hermillio Alcade del Rio, a Spanish archeologist and expert in prehistoric art discovered it in 1903. It consists of a large entrance chamber called the Gran Sala and an extended passageway of narrow galleries. In total, the cave is about 300-meter long and comprises a plethora of rock arts.
The parietal art includes over 100 images and various stills, including bison, goats, mammoths, and horses. Some of them also feature dogs, which are superimposed. And, of course, the hand stencils spray-painted through a tube.
Much of El Castillo’s art is figurative and bears engravings of hinds, ibex, and aurochs. It houses awe-inspiring images and is a recreational and infotainment center for 50,000 tourists annually. It is one of the most popular deposits of the Neolithic and Upper Paleolithic eras.
7. Sulawesi Cave Art
The cave in the South Sulawesi is situated in the Maros Pangkep karst. It contains the earliest known figurative arts dating at least 43,900 years ago. The cave complex is also called Leang Leang from the Makassarese language. The various caves in the complex are given names such as Jane, Jarie, Karissa, etc.
Leang Tempuseng features an intriguing hand stencil dating back to 39,300 years. Another most notable illustration is of the babirusa or deer-pig, estimated to be about 35,400 years. A special process of Uranium-Thorium was done on the paintings to locate their dates.
Pettakare cave bears, on its roof, 26 hand stencils in red and white yet to be dated. The white primitive hand stencils are supposedly spray-painted on the walls by placing a hand and spraying an amalgamation of red ochre and water.
Similarly, hands were dipped in red ochre and stamped for the red stencils. Some of the stencils are devoid of a finger or two as it was a common phenomenon to cut off their fingers at the death of someone elderly.
An official from a nearby cultural center stated that primitive inhabitants believed that hand stencils warded off evil and wild animals. It was a protective symbol for people inside the cave.
6. Chauvet Cave Paintings
Located along the bank of the river Ardeche near the Pont-d’Arc, Chauvet Cave was discovered only in 1994 by a Jean Marie Chauvet, who led a few cavers. It is one of the most famous cave art rock sites and owes its magnificence to two major qualities: first, aesthetically pleasing art, and second, its age.
Most of the cave art paintings have been dated to 30,000 and 33,000 years. The unmatched skill of the primitive painters and years of preservation has proved that prehistoric art was not naïve. Not only are the Paleolithic, Neolithic, and Ice Age paintings extremely old, but they are also extensive and diverse.
There are more than hundreds of animals recorded on the cave walls. Moreover, 13 species of animals were noted, some of which have been rarely or never found at other sites.
Instead of the domesticated animals that predominated the then prehistoric era, such as cattle and horses, the paintings at this site boast predatory animals such as lion, panther, bear, owls, etc.
Apart from the unusual, rare sights of predatory animals, one other unusual depiction is a human figurine at the farthest corner of the cave. This human figurine resembles a female body with genitals. Attention is also drawn towards a half-human, half-bison figurine alongside. It is what we know now as ‘The Sorcerer.’
The images at Chauvet Cave are intriguing and exhibit the oldest, a traditional form of art that can never be recreated. It is to be looked at within a particular setting and context. This rare quality is what fortifies its significance manifold times.
5. Gwion Gwion Rock Paintings
Previously known as the Bradshaw Rock Paintings, Gwion Gwion Cave art is a major archeological site in the Kimberly region of Western Australia. Although its age is debatable, a recent study estimates it to be about 12,000 years old.
As Kimberly houses many traditional sites, the locals have named it Gwion Gwion or even Kiro Kiro or Giro Giro. The cave bears human figurines with ornate accessories such as bags, tassels, and headdresses.
One might assume that the colors of the paintings might have faded or even monotonous. To our surprise, the paintings have assumed vivid colors due to their ongoing symbiotic relationship with bacteria and fungi. The black fungus or the Chaetothyriales, in contact with the original pigment and developed multicolor.
In 1997, Grahame Walsh undertook to excavate new sites and discovered the Gwion Gwion caves. Based on their characteristic styles, he categorized the paintings into two distinct styles: Tassels and Sash. Other than these two styles, he categorized two variants called Elegant Action and Clothes Peg.
The Tassel figures are easily identified donning headdresses, boomerangs, and tassels on their hands and hips. Similarly, Sash figures carry a three-pointed sash or bag from their waist.
Quite different from Tassels and Sash are Elegant Action figures, who are seen hunting or running or kneeling. And lastly, Clothes peg figures stay put and painted with red ochre.
The image processing has revealed that first, the contours were drawn and later filled in the silhouettes. The question of gender and facing in or facing out of the figures is widely debated, yet; we know that they are of great archeological importance.
4. Coldstream Burial Stone
The Coldstream stone is a small polychrome artifact found buried with a skeleton in South Africa. Upon excavation, it was spotted beneath a human skeleton towards the south of the Western Cape, a province in South Africa.
It is famous for its old age and beautiful imprint made on a quartzite stone, the surface of which bears three elongated bodies of ochre and three white countenances. The figure is seen carrying a bow and arrows on its shoulder and feather and palette on hands.
San hunters of South Africa were the principal rock artists, and the illustration of the Burial Stone is attributed to one of the group members.
It might have been one of the men performing a sacred dance to transcend into the supernatural world. Often, the san medicine men would perform a trance ritually.
The nasal hemorrhage of some of the figures is suggestive of the Khoisan trance practices, although the scholars do not explicitly state it.
3. Sydney Rock Engravings
Sydney rock engravings consist of petroglyphs and symbolic engravings of humans and animals. Many and various such engravings are found in Sydney, New Wales, Australia, but because they are considered sacred sites by the indigenous people, their locations are not publicized.
They are a form of aboriginal art carved on sandstones and scattered around the Sydney region. There are about 1,500 art pieces of antiquity and 1,500 culturally deposited sites. Unlike any other rock art in Australia, these rock art paintings have a distinct style of their own. Some of them date back to 5,000 or even 7,000 years.
This form of art is usually found in Ku-ring-gai Council, Sydney Harbor, and the Blue Mountains. They have been hand-made by the Australian Aborigines, who lived there 30,000 years ago and even today in the continuum.
Since direct dating didn’t yield much, the archeologists dated their age indirectly. Upon radiocarbon dating, the rock engravings were found to correspond with the Neolithic period in Eurasia.
The male and female dancers, the whale engravings, and two kangaroos are some of the notable examples from thousands of petroglyphs.
Although their purpose is unknown, many scholars suggest increasing was to increase their harvest and other ceremonies such as celebrating a boy to manhood.
Often, these motifs are just a basic outline. However, their theme extends more than their soft contours. They comprised mythical ancestral figures, spiritual entities, and endemic animals such as fish.
Around these sites were men’s area, women’s area, and even marriage areas. The word also goes around that aboriginal people believed that humans came from animals. Thus, the fantastic engravings of emus and wallabies.
2. Elands Bay Cave
Elands Bay Cave is known for its incredible San and Kehoe rock art, situated atop a hill above the Eland Bay harbor. Besides the rock art, it housed many faunal remains that suggest the inhabitants be from the Stone Age.
Initially occupied during the Middle Stone Age (more than 80,000 years ago), and somewhat during the Later Stone Age (about 500 years ago).
To talk about the cave art, it includes spiritual creatures of the San Bushmen, called eland. It also includes antelopes, and various other animals etched meticulously on walls.
Most remarkable of all is the handprints-big and small, believed to belong to children, teenagers, and older bushmen. They have been well protected over all these years even though they are open to tourists.
Other arts include elongated human figurines and animal outlines made with red ochre. It speaks a lot about the relationship between the hunter-gatherers and their landscape.
Similarly, it paints a picture of prehistoric people, animals, and their climate. Archeologists have said that the climate there has been, unfortunately, getting drier since they left.
1. Niola Doa
The mountainous region of Ennedi Plateau in Chad is known for the climatic changes that morphed it into gorges, cliffs, and terraces. However, it is also the home for thousands of images and engravings that feature multiple themes and differing styles.
This huge collection of rock art in the Sahara dates back from 5000 BC onwards. Among the kaleidoscope of engravings, the most distinct style and quality belong to the life-sized human figures with conventional style.
They were first publicly known in the 1950s, and since then, more and more have been discovered, predominantly around Wadi Guirichi.
As many as six sites have been founded and about forty depictions. Niola Doa or Beautiful Ladies is one among them. It has been drawn on a boulder, the ‘ladies’ facing left or right with one hand upright, holding a stick, and the other facing downwards. They also have four lines on their head, implying a headdress.
Some of the figures are adorned with a horizontal object on their necks, perhaps a traditional ornament. There are smaller figures interspersed among the bigger figures and are slightly different. The figures are probably naked, but some are seen wearing a skirt.
Another distinct quality is that the outlines are filled with straight or wavy geometrical patterns that represent body art that is perhaps adored and famous at their times or even a garment.
The breakthrough in Neolithic livelihood changed their art and architecture. The sculptures grew in size and were no longer portable; their pottery flourished and was used to store grains; similarly, the architecture saw a drastic leap in the interior and exterior design.
As people stationed at a place for an extended period, they yielded time to paint and sculpt on rock surfaces. Some of them washed away with the tide of time, but some remain extant and are visited by thousands of tourists annually.