Human kind has two main ways to explain the world around it: Art and religion. The fact that these two often intermix should come as no surprise to anyone seeking a college degree in either history or art. We know that from the earliest cave paintings that men used art to know only describe the world around them, mostly in highly symbolic terms, but also his relationship, through that world to the powers he believed moved the Universe. The most common, and still surviving, pieces of art are cave paintings. These paintings mostly features wildlife and images of nature, but many also had strong religious overtones.
The oldest of these paintings yet discovered are in Chauvet-Pont-de Arc, France, and were not actually found until late 1994 by a trio of spelunkers. While this region contains a great number of caves, this particular cave is most certainly the largest and is thought have been used as a central gathering place for quite a large community, many of whom actually lived in other parts of the valley. The paintings here also show a distinct break from other art of the period in that they include pictures of 13 different species of animal, some now extinct and the bones of these animals were found near the paintings themselves, indicating that the artist actually used the animals as models. This is the most logical conclusion since many of these animals were not traditionally used as food animals during that period. This break also indicates a extension from art as a practical tool to art for arts sake and, again, possibly a very early connection with art to religion. Since most of the animals were not food animals and we know that religions of the time were nature based, we can assume that the none food animals might have been connected to spirits of some type.
But Europe was not the only continent that this type of painting was found. In Baja, California, Mexico, there are numerous examples of cave art. There is a great deal of speculation as to when men first penetrated the North American Continent from Asia, and in some cases, whether it was even exclusively from Asia, but these painting are estimated to have been done over a period of between 600 and 1,500 years ago and, artistically at any rate, are much more complex than any of the paintings found in Chauvet. Along with the animal depictions there were also drawings of humans in various poses, some even with arrows drawn across their bodies in what appears to either represent either war or some type of black magic. Another unusual aspect of the human figures in Baja is their total lack of facial features or gender.
In other regions, lack of cave walls did not stop budding artists. Eastern Europe, particularly saw a great many attempts at early sculpturing and engraving using stone, ivory and wood. The early peoples of Siberia and Scandinavia and Arctic North American created a tradition of “scrimshaw” or tiny fine drawings on bone and ivory, some of which still exists today. When we follow arts history through the development of mankind, we can trace its grow and expansion into sentient beings not only conscious of the world around them but with a driving desire to understand and explain it.