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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. Creating visual art is one of the defining characteristics of the human species, but the paucity of archaeological evidence means that we have limited information on the origin and evolution of this aspect of human culture. The components of art include colour, pattern and the reproduction of visual likeness. The 2D and 3D art forms that were created by Upper Palaeolithic Europeans at least 30 years ago are conceptually equivalent to those created in recent centuries, indicating that human cognition and symbolling activity, as well as anatomy, were fully modern by that time.

The origins of art are therefore much more ancient and lie within Africa, before worldwide human dispersal. Zig-zag and criss-cross patterns, nested curves and parallel lines are the earliest known patterns to have been created separately from the body; their similarity to entopic phenomena involuntary products of the visual system suggests a physiological origin. Analysis of early tool-making techniques suggests that creating 3D objects sculptures and reliefs involves their cognitive deconstruction into a series of surfaces, a principle that could have been applied to early sculpture.

The cognitive ability to create art separate from the body must have originated in Africa but the practice may have begun at different times in genetically and culturally distinct groups both within Africa and during global dispersal, leading to the regional variety seen in both ancient and recent art. At all stages in the evolution of artistic creativity, stylistic change must have been due to rare, highly gifted individuals.

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Art, in its many forms, is practised by almost all human cultures and can be regarded as one of the defining characteristics of the human species. In all societies today, the visual arts are intimately intertwined with music, dance, ritual marking life landmarks, death, religion and politics and language poetry, song and story-telling.

Vocalization, ritualized movement and visual display are part of animal courtship and dominance competition as well as human ritual and communication, so it is likely that the roots of music, dance and body decoration lie deep in the evolutionary history of the animal kingdom. Nevertheless, with the evolution of human cognition, they were deployed in new ways, with complex symbolic meaning becoming attached to them.

There is good evidence for a neurological relationship between visual creativity and language.

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Stout et al. The tools were of the Oldowan and Acheulian types, representing a period of some 2 million years during which time the brain of our hominin ancestors expanded and tools became more advanced. The brain activation detected by positron emission tomography during tool-making included both visuomotor and language circuits, suggesting that tool-making and language share a basis in the human capacity for complex goal-directed manual activity. As this includes artistic creativity, evidence of the increasing sophistication of tool Women want sex Cave in Rock, as well as evidence from crania of increasing brain size, suggests that our ancestors had the ability to create art or proto-art much earlier in evolution than is suggested by current knowledge of art-related artefacts.

There is no consensus on how to define art, although most definitions emphasize aesthetics. Haselberger defined works of art as objects produced with the intention that they be aesthetically pleasing and not merely pragmatically functional. A broader definition would include the decoration of useful objects such as tools and weapons, and allow for the possibility that most early art may have had a ritual or religious ificance. We simply cannot know whether any prehistoric art was created simply for the sake of providing aesthetic pleasure, although there must surely have been an element of this on the part of both artist and viewer.

It is also generally accepted that art incorporates a symbolic element e. Gombrich, ; Layton, but, even where symbolism was not intended, a pattern or animal shape may have a totemic function; a particular pattern or animal form may be specific to a group or tribe and may mark their territory or clothing. The cross-cultural views of Morphy of what can be categorized as art in the European-Australian context are also relevant to the prehistoric perspective. Until recently, aboriginal art was considered as being of only ethnographic interest; a more open-minded and informed view has resulted in the inclusion of this category of art in mainstream galleries.

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In this article I take an inclusive view of art, to encompass: i the use of colour, applied to the body, another natural or created 3D object or a flat surface; ii pattern, whether or not made with symbolic intent; iii the modification of naturally occurring forms; iv the de-novo creation of 2D or 3D images. The first three of these probably Women want sex Cave in Rock independently but the fourth synthesizes elements of all of them as well as representing a fundamental cognition-related change.

I present evidence that the origins of art lie within Africa and that the oldest known European art was already recognisably characteristic of this region some 30 years ago. Although few inartefacts from older excavations in Africa and the Levant the strip of land forming the eastern border of the Mediterranean Sea suggest some of the possible stages in the evolution of human artistic creativity preceding the stage at which the evolution of technical skills, combined with the evolution of modern cognition, enabled humans to make representations of living beings in two or three dimensions.

The periods of human evolution to be covered, and some of the artefacts mentioned in the text, are summarized in the time-line shown in Fig. Periods of time and species of Homoand some of the artefacts mentioned in the text alongside their dates right column ; the vertical axis is log scale. The UP periods Aurignacian, Gravettian, Solutrean and Magdalenian are named after tool technology characteristic of key sites but the actual dates show geographical variations. Lewis-Williams, Is it possible, or even plausible, that the first real drawings and paintings were those created by Cro-Magnon man 30 years ago on cave walls and that the first real sculptures and clay models were those of Upper Palaeolithic Eurasia?

He proposed that art develops through a dialogue between artist and viewer; although based within its cultural context, it develops a life of its own and influences the formation of taste. Recent excavations, most revealingly in South African caves, have provided ificant insight into symbolling activity including the use of colour, engraving of patterns, bone technology and bead-making, dating from up to years ago Henshilwood et al. These finds confirm that European Upper Palaeolithic paintings, engravings and carvings, many of which are mature works of skilled craftsmanship, have a long history in terms of human evolution and culture behind them.

The unrivalled wealth of European material, which clearly indicates a highly developed artistic culture, may indeed be due to a sudden flowering of a more sophisticated symbolic creativity. Alternatively it may be a historical artefact arising from a change in the use of locally available sites, materials and traditions, e.

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Sculpture probably began with wood carving; even today, the favoured material for sculpture in Africa is wood, which is a perishable material unless fossilized. The few centuries-old African stone carvings that have survived are sophisticated in representational skill and aesthetic sensitivity, indicating a long-established creative tradition there Koloss, ; Willett, One traditional element of Yolngu art in Arnhem Land, Australia, is the creation of symbolic patterns in sand, whose temporary nature is part of their ritual purpose Morphy, We simply cannot know how much art was created in perishable materials and has therefore been lost to the archaeological record.

Any discussion on the origins of art is therefore inevitably biased towards consideration of the evidence from materials that have endured to the present day.

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Between the ages of 2 and 4, he completed more than drawings and paintings. He had a real involvement in his work and could not be persuaded to stop before, or continue after, arriving at his own conviction of having completed a painting. Since the evolutionary divergence from the last common ancestor of modern humans and chimpanzees occurred 4—8 million years ago Bradley,we can be certain that the potential for some individuals to enjoy applying colour to a surface is at least this ancient.

It is, however, important to note that chimpanzees in the wild do not exhibit any behaviour equivalent to painting — there is a vast gulf between the cognitive ability to use colour and the initiation and cultural assimilation of this behaviour. The human love of body decoration also involves the application of colour. Modern cosmetics and tattoos have a long history, probably originating with the use of ochre for colouring the skin hundreds of millennia ago.

At least 10 of the pieces had been ground or scraped; these had been deliberately selected as the most intensely red pigments. Body decoration, whether with pigments or with be made from pierced shells such as those found in the Blombos caves of South Africa Henshilwood et al. The people who made these be were anatomically modern humans: the earliest African skulls identified as H.

Body decoration is likely to have been an important precursor to the creation of art separate from the body. The use of colour to decorate skin, bones and be suggests enjoyment of form and colour. The practice of piercing teeth, shells and bones, and stringing them, singly or multiply, to make a pendant or necklace is the oldest known form of personal decoration after body painting. This behaviour required recognition of the potential of these objects to be modified by piercing, strung together and worn, and recognition of a symbolic importance in the wearing.

The individual wearing a necklace would have been enhanced in some way that could include some aspect of status related to social structure; and or it could give status to the creator, who may or may not also have been the wearer. There are of course alternative, non-symbolic explanations for the origin of face painting and bead use. Hunters to this day use face paint as camouflage when stalking their prey; face painting could also be group-specific, enabling group recognition at a distance. Among the!

Hence the ritual and decorative functions of body decoration could have arisen secondarily to their survival-enhancing functions. It is possible that the use of colour for body decoration was not unique to H. Many of the blocks had markings consistent with intentional abrasion scraping or had been polished; they were discovered Women want sex Cave in Rock with grindstones and flint tools consistent with these functions. Although this indicates preparation of powdered pigment, which was probably mixed with a binding agent before use, some pieces had been formed into points bearing traces of use as crayons.

Blocks of red and yellow ochre were also found but in smaller s and, in contrast to the manganese dioxide, did not show clear evidence of use. Neanderthals also used charcoal in a similar manner. These observations suggest the use of pigment for body decoration or camouflage by European Neanderthals at least 60 years ago, apparently with a preference for black.

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The use of pigment by both early African H. These skeletons share features with both H. Body painting may have begun later than this split, originating independently in Women want sex Cave in Rock humans and Neanderthals, although the large cranial capacity of H. It is not impossible that body painting was practised by these earlier species. One important prerequisite for body painting was the loss or great reduction of body and facial hair.

The fossil record does not tell us precisely when this occurred but we do know that the hair keratin gene KRTHAP1which is functional in chimpanzees and gorillas, was inactivated in the line leading to modern humans within the past years Winter et al.

Body painting is still used by peoples whose traditional way of life has not yet been entirely swept away by the inro of Western modernity, as well as the tattoos and cosmetics of many modern cultures. It has multiple ritual functions, e. The use of colour for body decoration, as well as be and perishable items such as feathers or plant-derived items of which there is no archaeological record, is, however, conceptually a long way from the creation of patterns and representational art separate from ourselves. The earliest known decorative patterns include the zig-zag patterns on a 77 BP ochre block from the Blombos caves, South Africa Henshilwood et al.

Engraved cupules of Lower Palaeolithic Acheulian origin in India are the oldest currently known deliberately made rock markings Bednarik, b and references therein. The Quneitra artefact, a flat flint cortex 7. Although the examples of early patterns mentioned above have been taken to imply symbolling activity, this is not necessarily the case. It may be that symbolic meanings of engraved and painted patterns came after their origin, i. The geometric patterns in European Upper Palaeolithic caves are in positions that clearly suggest symbolic meaning.

Pattern is the dominant feature in the Yolngu art of Arnhem Land, Australia, and has a huge range of symbolic meanings Morphy, Geometric rock engravings associated with habitation sites dated to 15 —16 BP have been discovered in Upper Egypt; their meaning is unknown but mushroom-shaped des among them have been identified as diagrams of fish-traps Huyge,a reminder that prosaic rather than symbolic meanings are possible wherever we are unable to interpret intention. Many sculptors feel that in working on a block of stone or other material they are releasing or revealing the form they create.

This was graphically described by Michelangelo, e. This approach requires the 3D form to pre-exist in the mind of the sculptor, which, even with the aid of 2D working drawings, involves a highly sophisticated cognitive ability that few of us possess. A precursor of this process, not requiring the final form to be held in the mind, is to recognize a natural form as loosely resembling something else and to modify it to create a better likeness.

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Modifying a wooden clothes peg the old-fashioned type with a knob at the top and split shaft to make a doll uses this simple approach, as does the recognition of an anthropoid form in an oddly-shaped root vegetable. There are indeed some candidate examples from pre-history that suggest that this proto-creative process may have occurred in pre-modern humans. Although the following examples are not universally accepted as evidence of proto-artistic behaviour, they deserve serious consideration.

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The evolution of human artistic creativity