Prehistoric art

Prehistoric art. An artistic phenomenon with a global geographic scope and a sufficient time range to affect the most diverse periods. The concept is much more extensive than the quaternary rock phenomenon, mainly limited to western Europe , and also includes the manifestations of the so-called paleolithic art.


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  • 1 Emergence
  • 2 African art
    • 1 African art in the stone age
      • 1.1 North Africa
      • 1.2 East Africa
      • 1.3 Southern Africa
    • 2 Ancient African art
  • 3 American art
    • 1 Preclassic American art
    • 2 The oldest testimonies of American art
    • 3 North America until the formative period
      • 3.1 Hohokam and Mogollón
      • 3.2 Anasazi
      • 3.3 The Mound Builders
      • 3.4 The monumental art of the Northwest Indians
    • 4 Ibero-America until the formative period
  • 4 Asia and Europe
    • 1 European paleolithic art
    • 2 Levantine art
    • 3 European Neolithic Art
      • 3.1 Neolithic furniture art
      • 3.2 Levantine art
    • 4 The megaliths
    • 5 European art in the Metal Ages
      • 5.1 The schematic rock phenomenon in Europe
      • 5.2 The sculpture
      • 5.3 The architecture
      • 5.4 The development of metallurgical art
    • 6 The end of Prehistory in Europe
  • 5 Oceania
    • 1 Australia
    • 2 Melanesia
    • 3 Micronesia
    • 4 Polynesia
      • 4.1 New Zealand
      • 4.2 Hawaii Islands
      • 4.3 Easter Island
    • 6 Source


Although chronologically, Europe should occupy the first place, and despite the fact that many of the prehistoric artistic expressions are relatively recent in some areas of the globe, where primitive peoples have survived, the exhibition will be carried out in alphabetical order. Although this leads to an additional problem: is it legal to compare such distant manifestations in space and time? In this sense, the confrontation of cultural equivalences, ignoring empirical particularisms, allows generalizations to be obtained.

Based on this, it can be seen that, in the visual and plastic arts of primitive peoples, realism is something exceptional, compared to symbolism, abstraction, stylization and schematism, which seem to be a worldwide constant.

Another possible generalization is that almost all Holocene rock art takes place abroad, at most in rock shelters, gorges and shallow ditches.

Third, the megalithism and the construction of burial mounds, in relation to the cult of the dead, or the need to develop a defensive architecture, often with cyclopean constructions (whose motivation, far exceeds military needs), also they are constants of world prehistoric art.

Finally, there is the fact that, despite the undeniable religious significance of prehistoric art , it is not only associated with the funerary or mythological world, but that the themes cover all facets of human social life (hunting, war, jobs, ceremonies, hierarchies, sex, family, even fun …) and, above all, as human societies evolve, the glorification of power and the powerful.

African art

There are rural towns in Africa that to this day preserve ancient stylistic traditions of rock art despite the influence of the pre-established patterns of Art and beauty of contemporary western cultures.

In this sense, they have managed to safeguard these cultural heritages despite the pressure of the foreign colonizers who brought with them discriminatory artistic ideologies among which we have, for example the Islamic iconoclastic tendency.

However, in this section we will focus on prehistoric art itself, that is, until the arrival of Europeans, in the XV and XVI centuries, when the Yoruba , the Benin , the Sao and other great cultures were at their peak, cut off at the root due to the beginning of colonial exploitation.

African art in the Stone Age

The first African artistic manifestations are paleolithic, but very few: on the one hand we have the doubtful Venus of Tan-Tan (Morocco), and on the other the strongest testimonies of southern Africa, such as the cave of Blombos (South African Republic), some 70,000 years old, where there are balls of mineral ocher (hematite) decorated with parallel incisions, reticulated and with geometric motifs (some come from ritual burials).

It has been known for a long time that ocher could be used to paint body decorations, however, it is the first time that this type of pigment pencils has retained any type of intentional decoration. Also dated in the Palaeolithic is the platelet painted with an unidentified zoomorph dated to 25,000 years old from the Apollo 11 cave ( Namibia ), where, in addition, there is much later parietal art attributed to the Bushmen.

The rest of the known prehistoric African art is much later, surely after the Neolithic. During the Stone Age we distinguished the following regions:

North Africa

Particularly noteworthy is the enormous set of cave punctures in the mountains of the south-central Sahara: Ahaggar , Tassili , Tibesti Fezzan …, which constitute the largest cave nucleus in the world. This region must have been, in remote times, much more humid and rich in fauna, since the representations are surprisingly rich in wild fauna (elephants, giraffes, buffaloes, hippos) and domestic fauna (rams, oxen, camels …).

The scenes are full of life and optimism, there are families, young people diving, etc. There are probably several stages, a first phase with towns that knew livestock and subsistence agriculture, but they practiced the hunting of the buffalo (IV millennium adC) a second of long-horned ox herders in which their keepers carry large bows (III millennium adC) and a third in which there are already known horse animals (horses and camels) that appear in full gallop, as well as the car (II millennium adC).

Part of this chronology is contemporary with Ancient Egypt and, in fact, some of the representations show contacts of the Sahrian peoples with the Egyptians.

East africa

In East Africa , Louis Leakey himself has studied a series of paintings on various rocky crags in the Lake Tanganyika and Lake Victoria area, depicting rhinoceros and buffalo elephants. They are poorly dated and little known works. In Central Africa, the Tulu Refuge and the Kumbala Refuge also stand out, with stylized characters, some in red and others in white, very different from those of southern Sahara.

Southern africa

This area maintained a series of tribes of the group called San whose level was in the Stone Age when the Europeans arrived. The San lived with the various Bantu groups that, although contemporaries, already knew metals and, therefore, are studied in the following section. The San or Bushmen developed a rich rock art throughout this area (highlighting Namibia, Drakensberg and Transvaal), in numerous caves and covachas, whose maximum antiquity is disputed, but could be located in the 5th millennium BC and which last until very recent historical times. .

His art is stylized and fresh, although not as lively as the Saharan, and his motifs are ritual scenes and surrounding animals, but his polychrome is the richest and brightest (especially in later works).

Ancient african art

Curiously, despite being the cradle of humanity and African ethnic wealth, discoveries are much scarcer than in Europe or America due to the difficulty of finding and accessing the sites, the socio-political problems and extensive areas of the continent have only recently begun to be explored. The news from great ancient states (from which we excepted Ancient Egypt ) are the ones that have guided a series of discoveries that, on the other hand, are still isolated and fragmentary:

  • Nokculture: It is a culture that developed in northern Nigeria between the 5th century BC and the 3rd of our era. They were connoisseurs of iron metallurgy and, artistically, they stand out for being the initiators of African statuary, in this case, terracotta. The Nok sculptures are of a very mature technical and stylistic elaboration, which makes one suspect that there must have been precedents (unknown at the moment). They are stylized works, exquisitely made and with an iconography based on the human figure. their function is ignored, as until now the best-known specimens come from stable towns (eg Samun Dukiya and Taruga , next to the Benué river), but they were undoubtedly religious achievements. The Nok terracottas Yoruba and Benin sculptures are considered antecedents.
  • Sao civilization: it occurred on the shores of Lake Chad, specifically in the Logon and Chari valleys ; immediately after the disappearance of the Nok , although their apogee takes place between the 9th and 16th centuries. Almost all Sao art is funerary, specifically it is vessels and cups decorated with anthropomorphic and zoomorphic representations; but bracelets, pendants and pectorals cast in bronze by the lost wax molding technique are also preserved.

It is worth noting the simplicity of its architecture, which has survived to this day: these are huts and barns with a circular floor plan and a raised, pointed dome, made of mud and adobe and with the exterior surface curiously decorated with projections of various shapes, the most Common, they are in inverted vee ( musgus ) or in the form of rings ( massas ), which not only improve the aesthetics of the construction, but also serve to climb these ledges and easily repair deterioration.

  • Munhumutapa Civilization: It is a kingdom that flourished in the current state of Zimbabwe between the 11th and 15th centuries, of a Zulu ethnic group called Shona whose capital was called Great Zimbabwe, probably the largest ruined city in all of black Africa and that should have 18,000 inhabitants in their prime; but linked to it there are hundreds of towns on the banks of the Zambezi, Limpopo rivers and, in general, throughout the country.

His art is characterized, especially, by a monumental granite architecture, generally defensive, but gold objects, furniture and ceramics are also known. Among the remains were fragments of Chinese porcelain from the Song dynasty that suggests the high commercial degree of the munhumutapa , perhaps based on the control of gold deposits.

  • Yoruba Country: The Yoruba are a people from southern Nigeria who, around the 9th and 12th centuries, constituted an important kingdom, whose religious center was the sanctuary of Ifé (or Ilé-Ifé ), where the high priest or Oni ruled a wide federation of city-states. Ifé accumulated numerous riches and led to the development of a technically highly advanced court sculpture of prodigious quality, as well as majestic and balanced.

The bronze or terracotta heads predominate, in a surprisingly realistic style, which many have associated with classical European ideals (which has sparked many controversies), despite their undeniable African features. There are also carved heads at Esié , another shrine, but their style is much coarser. This dichotomy is explained by the existence of an official art, at the service of the kingdom, capable of reaching high levels of perfection, in front of non-courteous artists, freer but linked to the ancestral animistic models of the tribes.

  • Kingdom of Benin: In the 13th century , an ancient kingdom of the Adja ethnic group emerged in the current state of Benin, whose peak was in the 16th century and was often known to Europeans as Dahomey. The main concern of the adja was to organize themselves to avoid attacks by slave traders, they founded important cities such as Abomey, Agdanlin and Ajatche, they centralized, formed a professional army and named a monarch, the Oba .

They ended up becoming slave traders themselves, with which the Oba obtained important benefits; until they became vassals of the Yoruba, first and, later, they were conquered by the English ( 1897 ).

In their long existence, the Benin have left several thousand monumental bronze sculptures (heads of kings and queens, roosters, leopards), as well as ornamental reliefs that undoubtedly adorned their monuments. In addition, elements of movable art are known: bracelets, swords, masks, carved ivories, etc. The earliest sculptures have clear Yoruba influences, from whom they may have learned the lost wax molding.

The maximum emergence of his art occurs between the XV and XVII centuries, at which time a powerful European influence, especially Portuguese, is appreciated. The decline begins in the eighteenth century, the Benin lose resources and are forced to build wooden works lined with brass, and a more stereotypical style with little originality, which indicates a clear cultural deterioration.

Early African art continues to develop today, with its most active centers being West Africa (Dogones, Ashanti, Yorubas, Ibos …) and Central Africa (Bamikeles, Fangs, Bakubas, Balubas, Bambaras …).

American art

Preclassic American art

America has one of the shortest, most intense and richest prehistoric stages in the world, this article has excluded preclassical and classical pre-Columbian civilizations, focusing on the period from the appearance of the first known artistic works, to the manifestations of the early or formative horizons , that is, the beginning of the Mesoamerican preclassic period (that is, except for the case of the Amerindians of Oasisamerica and the rest of North America, we will treat periods prior to our era).

The oldest testimonies of American art

One of the oldest testimonies that has been found in America is in Pedra Furada, in Brazil, where, together with much more recent artistic manifestations, a home dated by Carbon-14 at 17,000 ± 400 years old was located next to the one that had been found. some parallel red lines that unquestionably were a very schematic, but intentional artistic creation.

In fact, everything seems to indicate that the first American works of art have that extremely simple, non-figurative schematic character. This is the case in the Clovis cave (New Mexico) where sandstone plates with incisions of different geometric dates dating from the late Pleistocene were exhumed.

A special case is that offered by the Patagonian deposits in the Río Pinturas valley, in Argentina . Two important cave complexes of long chronological duration have been located there, the oldest dates being from the eighth millennium BC, however, there are much older archaeological levels (up to 14,000 years old) in which natural pigments have been found (iron oxides, gypsum crystals, etc.) that had been mixed with other substances, that is, they had been manipulated by humans. in order to achieve adherence to the rock.

These mixtures, when analyzed by the X-ray diffraction method, turned out to be identical to the oldest paintings located in the Cueva de las Manos, which leads one to think that some of them could be extremely old, that is, from the end from the Pleistocene (more than 13,000 years old according to Carbon 14. However, there is no direct evidence linking the pigments found in the excavations with the paintings, nor is it known what their motifs or appearance would be.

However, the Patagonian stations of the Alto Río Pinturas Archaeological Complex (especially the aforementioned Cueva de las Manos and Cerro de los Indios ) deserve some attention. Its main researchers, Grandin and Aschero, believe that it is possible to establish three stages in this great rock ensemble: the first and oldest, dated between 7,700 AD and 5,500 AD, consists of highly dynamic hands and scenes with stylized anthropomorphs hunting huanacos.

The second , dated between 5,500 adC and 1400 adC, is a less dynamic, but more colorful ensemble, the main theme is still the hands, but there are also numerous stylized zoomorphs of very varied colors (white, dark red, violet, ocher. ..). The third phase goes from 1400 BC to 1000 AD, it is the poorest, stylization has been replaced by schematization and various geometric motifs have been added to the hands.

As noted above, a phase would remain, prior to all the others, deduced only by inferences, from which almost everything except its great antiquity is unknown and can only be considered as a working hypothesis, until its existence is verified.

Parallel to the development of Patagonian paintings, rock art extends throughout South America, with important examples being the paintings of Cueva de Toquepala (in which dates from 7630 BC), Lauricocha and Chaclarragla ( Peru ) with large representations have been obtained. , like those of the schematic phase of de Pedra Furada and Ferraz Egreja ( Brazil ); also Mont du Mahuri and Kourou ( Guyana ), among others, all of them dated to the Holocene.

Regarding North America, there is an important cave complex in Baja California , the most important cave is that of San Borjita , with schematic human and animal representations. Other caves in the same area are the Painted Cave of the Santa Teresa Canyon, the Cueva de los Venados and the Cueva de la Cañada de la Soledad . Regarding caves with the hands as the main theme, these are not limited to Patagonia, in fact they are all over America , for example, the cave of Mojocoya ( Bolivia ), Corinto (El salvador) or Finger Print Cave in Texas (United States )

North America until the formative period

At the same time that the second phase of painting was painted in Río Pinturas , they were developed in more advanced areas of America (the Andes, Mesoamerica, Oasisamérica, the Ohio-Mississippi River Valley, in British Columbia and in Eskimo territory …), great agro-pottery civilizations that will precede the classic pre-Columbian civilizations.

The artistic variety is extraordinary, and can only be unified based on its adaptation to the environment, great inventiveness and the variety of forms of expression. From the portable wooden houses of the Northwest of North America, to the mud houses in the Chaco canyon, the Panamanian molas, the Hopi cetas or the Amazonian feather masks (not counting the cave shapes), there is such a variety that in this article we can only give an overview.

In North America a series of nomadic peoples coexisted with very primitive tribal traditions and, although they knew certain advances, they lived in conditions similar to those of the Stone Age, along with others who developed very advanced cultures in which, although they did not come into existence States in the style of those of the Classic era (Mayas, Aztecs …), had a strongly structured organization. The latter basically follow three traditions:

Hohokam and Mogollón

Both are Indians of the Cochise tradition : the Mogollón and the Hohokam. The Cochise tradition is named after an eponymous lake (currently known as Willcox Playa ); it occurred in Arizona and New Mexico and is the predecessor of the Mogollón Culture . This town inhabited the Sierra, so called, of New Mexico, some 200 years before our era, its components were sedentary farmers and they are considered the first potters of the American West.

Being a long-lived culture, they continued to perfect their ceramic technique, until they reached an exquisite finesse, with a decoration between naturalistic and stylized, full of movement (almost all known pieces appeared in tombs and, apparently, were rendered useless at the burial) . In addition to ceramics, shell necklaces, bracelets, and bone jingle bells appeared in some tombs.

Perhaps also heirs to the Cochise culture were the Arizona Hohokam , noted for their elaborate irrigation systems (which we will not cover here, as this is not the subject of the article). The Hohokam , in addition to extraordinary ceramic richly decorated in red and brown, produced crude anthropomorphic figurines and polished slate mirrors adorned with pyrite mosaics.

Another surprising form of artistic expression of the Hohokam was the engraving of shells with saguaro acid, creating drawings based on protecting the shell with a film of natural resins. Both the Mogollón and the Hohokam seem to have had strong ties with Mesoamerica in its most advanced phases, a thousand years after the beginning of our era, since courts for the famous ball game have been found.


The primitive Pueblo Indians , known generically as Anasazi and whose evolution is usually called the Pecos Classification . Nine phases are set in said classification, including the three oldest correspond to calls cesteros Peoples ( Basketmakers ), which generally range from Century XIII BC, until the eighth century CE.

As it is presumable, these towns owe their name to the skill with which they made baskets, with geometric decoration, and other wicker objects, yucca fibers, and even human hair. The basket-making towns mark the passage from a hunter-gatherer economy to another clearly agrofood, with a rough pottery and no livestock (if we except dogs).

Large necropolis are preserved in which the corpses were accompanied by rich trousseau, which is an invaluable source for the knowledge of this town.

The next four phases are those properly dedicated to the Pueblo Indians or, more appropriately, Anasazi , having a last phase considered historical. The most striking feature of the Anasazi is their architecture and, specifically, their towns, which emerge in their heyday (between 800 and 1000). We highlight two of them because they show two different morphologies:

  • Mesa Verde (Colorado): it is an impressive set of populations (highlighting Cliff Palace), built on the cliff wall ( Mesas or cliff-dwellings , in local terminology), over 30 meters high, with an arch shape. The more than two hundred semi-rogue habitats are only accessible from above, through winding paths and could accommodate hundreds of inhabitants.

The buildings were closed with adobe or masonry walls and in front of its terrace were the circular rooms that used as sanctuaries, the kivas or circular wells that were once roofed. As is known from later traditions, the Taos of New Mexico (one of the peoples that descended from the Anasazi) say that the creditor god Itaiku taught men the model with which to build their villages.

  • Pueblo Bonito (Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. More than a dozen such Anasazivillages have been documented in the Chaco Canyon at the moment ; in fact the entire valley is a United States National Monument. It is a a different type of town, not on the cliff wall, but at its base.About adobe, with the shape of a walled crescent, it has several superimposed, staggered floors, without streets or alleys and with a double central patio.

The semicircular terraces give it a characteristic amphitheater shape. The semi-sunken houses were accessed from above, from a common terrace where most of the city and social activities were carried out. The kivas (more than 50), similar to those of Meda Verde , are also hidden among the houses : circular, with access from above (although they have lost the roof): they were places of social or ceremonial gathering.

There are, of course, many more important sites, such as the necropolis of the town of Pecos , Santa Fe (New Mexico), with more than two thousand burials; Utah petroglyphs and cave paintings; beautifully decorated ceramics, bone flutes, stone pipes, necklaces, earrings and bracelets made of bone, coral, jet or turquoise.

Mound Builders

Mound construction in recent Prehistory is a phenomenon that occurs in all the eastern and southeastern states of the United States , although the highest numbers are in Ohio (where more than 10,000 have been located). They are of very different sizes and shapes, and do not belong to a specific culture, but were built by different peoples and different functions.

Some had funeral purposes, others were defensive and there are some that are the base of ceremonial centers. The oldest are from the second millennium BC and were made of clay and shells; the most distant date is held by the so-called Poverty Point (Louisiana), which dates from 1500 BC; on the contrary, the later mounds stopped rising with the arrival of the Europeans, in the 16th century , almost all belonging to the Mississippi culture .

This is one of the three most important towns, which occur almost without breaks:

  • The Adena Culture: occurs in the Ohio River Valley between 1000 BC and 200 BC. The Adena built burial mounds, that is, burial mounds. In them, the remains were deposited in small wooden mortuary chambers, after having left the corpses at the mercy of the vultures (this is what is usually known as secondary burial and occurs in many cultures); the trousseau was made up of animal figurines and other objects.

They also raised what is known as effigy mounds , that is, with concrete shapes. The most famous is the Serpent Mound , whose sinuous shape of more than 300 meters in length, begins in a spiral and ends with the head in which there seems to have been an altar.

  • The Hopewell culture(200 adC-500 adC) is a direct successor to Adena , so they are quite similar, although their mounds are larger and their material culture more advanced and rich. They build huge burial mounds and effigy mounds in the shape of birds, bears, men, etc.

Among the objects found in the burials, the mica pieces stand out. those of obsidian, the tusks of the bear and the objects of hammered and embossed copper. They also have rich pottery and clay figurines.

  • The culture of the Mississippi: It occurred between the year 500 and 1500 in a vast territory of the southeast that spanned from Tennessee to Oklahoma, although its period of maximum splendor occurred in the 13th century , sometimes it is also known as culture of the Indians Natchez . Its nerve center was the city of Cahokia Burial Mounds State Historic Site (St. Louis East, Illinois), which itself was an enormous elevation that housed more than 30,000 people.

It was strongly protected and inside there were numerous mounds called monks . It was, possibly, places of worship, with the flat top, where a temple was erected at the time. One of those monks was enormous (300 meters long by 30 meters high) and had several temples at the top of its terrace, some of them large.

Cahokia is supposed to have a complex social hierarchy, with a tribal chief and a powerful caste of priests (there were also warlords, warriors, and, below, the common people). One of the tombs found seems to have belonged to a great priest (called a bird-man ), since it rested on a bed of thousands of pearls and other typical objects of the cahokia , such as discs and solar crosses engraved on shells and stones.

The monumental art of the Northwest Indians

In the coastal strip of the North American Pacific, a series of tribes survived that, until the 19th century , lived on marine resources and that, although they did not constitute a culture of greater complexity than the tribal one; Thanks to the abundance that their economy provided, they were able to develop their concise ceremonies called potlatch and an art of considerable magnitude. This was based, fundamentally, on polychrome wood applied both to totem poles and to the decoration of communal and ceremonial dwellings.

Since these villages were semi-nomadic, some of these houses were designed to be dismantled and transported, despite their complexity. In totemic poles, in addition to recording the tribal lineage (generally related to the animal world), he displayed a colorful and expressionist plastic of enormous originality by combining and dissociating his elements from the pole in a quasi-organic way.

Today, “pockets” of indigenous culture remain in North America as rich and numerous as they are few in number. But, although they preserve much of the traditions of their ancestors, in them it is impossible not to see the growing weight of Western influence. This does not detract from their artistic manifestations, although after centuries of Europeanization they are somewhat syncretic or mestizo. However, these peoples must be studied under a heading appropriate to today’s primitive peoples , not to prehistoric peoples.

Iberoamerica until the formative period

From the period in which ceramics, agriculture and livestock were already known, we have very little data on the origin of the first great Mesoamerican classical culture, the Olmecs, there is no comparable previous culture, although it is suspected that a long period of abundance could lead to the birth of this civilization.

The closest precedents would be in the adobe pyramid of Cuicuilco, in the bay of Matanchén, in the Capacha culture, in certain deposits of the Veracruz Huasteca and in the early phases of Tlapacoya.

A little further south, on the Isthmus of Panama and Colombia, important ancestor cultures of the Chibchas seem to have developed, especially the San Agustín culture, and the Valdivia (pre-Columbian culture) in Ecuador . Although the first city worthy of the name in South America is the great sanctuary of Caral ( Peru ), inhabited in a period between 3400 BC and 1600 AD, that is, before, including knowledge of Andean pottery.

This great ceremonial center demonstrates important architectural knowledge, the most important buildings being the 32 pyramid structures, numerous open spaces for large gatherings (called amphitheatres ) and several temples with their characteristic “U” plan , among which the so-called “Altar of the Sacred Fire » .

The Caral is supposed to be the center of a homogeneous culture, perhaps an authentic centralized state, based on religious cohesion, since other secondary cultural centers have been found in its area of ​​influence, but of the same type (Chupacigarro, Miraya and Lurihuasi. Caral, Miraya and Lurihuasi), so it could speak of the Culture of Caral-Supe , born in the “Late Preceramic Period” .

Beginning in 1500 BC, the “Initial Ceramic Period” would begin, in which the first representations of the feline god, or God-Jaguar , must be added to ceramic forms , which will become a constant in prehistoric Andean cultures. Thus, in the second millennium, some characteristics of Andean idiosyncrasy have already emerged, the great truncated pyramids, the cult of the Jaguar, the “U” temples, etc.

The last great Andean prehistoric culture of the Chavín Culture , from the Formative period (between 800 adC and 200 adC). Again we would be facing a possible theocratic state with capital in a great ceremonial center, the Chavín de Huantar, associated with the cult of the aforementioned God-Jaguar .

Its economic prosperity was based on numerous agricultural innovations, and its art is much more evolved, and the ceremonial site stands out for emblematic buildings, especially the so-called Castle , a cyclopean rigging complex, built over several centuries, with several terraces , patios and internal routes through an infinity of labyrinthine corridors that led to a central room supported by the so-called “El Lanzón monolithico” (a kind of stone pillar, 4 and a half meters high, decorated with the head of a jaguar-man huge jaws, with their hair knitted, made up of intertwined snakes). Outside we have the “Estela de Raimondi” (3-meter-high tombstone and a motley design).

Finally, the «Obelisco Tello» (decorated with a kinky man-beast motif superimposed on other hybrids of birds, fish and reptiles); more slabs with similar reliefs are scattered throughout the area.

Asia and Europe

There are various evidences of prehistoric art from the Paleolithic, one of the most significant is the Venus of Berejat Ram, discovered in the Near East, in the Golan Heights. From the news that we have so far, art was born in Western Europe more than 30,000 years ago and developed especially during the Upper Paleolithic in France , Spain and other countries, with a marvelous quality. However, at the end of the last ice age and the beginning of the Holocene period, for totally unknown causes, the almost total disappearance of European art took place, so that it could be said that the clock was reset and synchronized with the rest of the world, carrying, since then a parallel development.

This article has decided not to include the Iron Age art in Europe for two reasons: the first is that the extension would be excessive, the second is that most of the European cultures of the Iron Age are Protohistoric or, even, historical, and of most of them we have direct or indirect written news.

European paleolithic art

The Franco-Cantabrian art school is the most important of all those that developed during the Upper Palaeolithic in Europe , approximately from 35,000 years ago to about 10,000 years ago. Rock art, both parietal and movable, appears above all in the caves on the coasts of the Spanish Cantabrian (Cueva de Tito Bustillo in Asturias, Cueva de El Castillo and Cueva de Altamira in Cantabria …) and southern France (cueva del Lascaux or Grotto de Font-de-Gaume …), although it really extends to other European regions (although with less density).

Examples of this are the center of the Iberian Peninsula, with caves such as Los Casares, Maltravieso and open-air groups such as Siega Verde. The technique used is painting, engraving, relief and, in the case of furniture art, the production of statuettes and other figures. The paintings are monochromatic or bichrome (that is, more than two colors are never used simultaneously), although the color of the rock is used as a chromatic complement.

Gradients (modeling and shading) are used to give a feeling of volume, or rock projections are used. It is an animalistic art in which the human figure is relegated to the background; abstract signs or schematizations of sexual organs also abound.

It is considered fundamentally descriptive, that is, there are rarely scenes (and when they are found, they are probably not real events, but symbolic, that is, mitograms ), the composition of the figures is juxtaposed, with a symbolic rather than real meaning, and without giving the sensation of a natural movement (although this is expressed through certain conventions); In spite of everything, the figures are very realistic and detailed, making it an exceptional case in Prehistoric Art.

The function of paleolithic art is totally unknown. At first it was thought that these works of art were made only for aesthetic reasons (to decorate: “art for art’s sake  ), and although no one denies the high aesthetic sense of these representations, this is a secondary factor. No doubt this art was of a magical or religious nature . No more precision can be made, at best, several theories can be formulated, but without definitive proof.

The most common proposals are totemism, shamanism, propitiatory magic, fertility and the dualism of nature. It is actually possible that all theories have some truth, that only by taking them all together can the meaning of Paleolithic art be interpreted.

Levantine art

The Spanish Levantine Art , must be dated to the Epipaleolithic or (Mesolithic) period, about 10,000 years before the present, and not as it has been wanted to relocate in the Neolithic period since the supposed rock scenes of livestock and some objects supposedly represented between 8,000 and 5,000 years old. They are wrong and baseless interpretations. Hunting scenes and in general the world of the hunter, in a very broad sense and with its many and subtle aspects, are the usual ones in Levantine Art.

They are parietal paintings that are located in shallow shelters or covachas, illuminated by the solar light, of mountain ranges and steep areas of the Spanish Mediterranean provinces (the Spanish Levante), from Lérida to Andalusia, highlighting Cogull, Alpera and ‘ Barranco de la Valltorta ‘ Solana de las Covachas (among many others). We do not know associated furniture art, only wall paintings with crushed natural pigments.

The main theme is the human being and his tasks are not daily, although it may seem so to a layman: hunting scenes, ritual dances and, rarely, violent struggles. The style is very spontaneous and lively: the characters form authentic lively and dynamic scenes. The figures are stylized and monochrome silhouettes, that is, painted in a single color (red or black), they are flat and without modeling.

European Neolithic Art

Neolithic furniture art

Neolithic furniture art includes a wide range of ceramic forms and other everyday objects, in addition to the ornamental and ceremonial elements, which were lavished at this stage. Ceramic has innumerable variants (depending on the morphology and the printed, incised or painted decoration), therefore, in order not to expand, we will only mention two of them: firstly, cardial printed ceramics, typical of the oldest Neolithic phases in the Mediterranean and characterized by decoration based on impressions made with mollusk shells; secondly we will mention the band ceramics , which occurs in the heart of the continent and whose decoration is incised with geometric motifs in the form of ribbons with capricious elbows.

Painted ceramics predominate in the southeast of Europe , due to oriental influence. The sculpture has an early and original development, in fact practically in all the Neolithic cultures of Eastern Europe appear, from the earliest stages, female figurines, usually of baked clay, but also of stone, which are supposed to represent the Great Mother Goddess of fertility (remarkable cases are those of Khirokitia in the Neolithic Aceryma of Cyprus, in Sesklo and Dímini , Greece , and above all, in the cultures of Gulmenite Culture , Serbia, Cucuteni or Hamangia, in Romania, and so on, a long etcetera).

A special case are the stone sculptures of Lepenski Vir (Serbia), roughly carved on large pebbles with characters so peculiar in appearance that they have been interpreted as hybrid beings (half-human, half-fish).

Regarding the scope of the ornaments, these are usually shale bracelets in the shape of a ring, necklace beads of various materials (stone, bone, shell …), pendants made with bone, or with animal fangs, figurines and objects of practical utility decorated, almost always with abstract motifs. At the end of the Neolithic the first ornamental objects made of hammered native copper appear.

Levantine art

The Spanish Levantine Art School , which until recently was dated in older periods (Mesolithic), has been relocated to the Neolithic period, since, in fact, its representations include certain cave scenes of livestock; in addition, some represented objects allow us to suppose that the paintings are between 8,000 and 5,000 years old. Livestock scenes are common in Levantine Art (in Cogul it is very evident, for example), if we add to this that the supposed sorcerer of the Cueva de los Letreros , in Almería, carries sickles in hand, we cannot deny that At a minimum, the paintings are Neolithic.

They are wall paintings that appear on the rocky cliffs and shallow ditches of mountain ranges and steep areas of the Spanish Mediterranean provinces (the Spanish Levante), from Léroda to Andalusia, highlighting Cogull, Alpera and Barranco de la Valltorta (among many others).

We do not know associated furniture art, only wall paintings with crushed natural pigments. The main theme is the human being and his daily tasks: scenes of livestock, hunting, ritual dances or even violent struggles. The style is very spontaneous and lively: the characters form authentic lively and dynamic scenes. The figures are stylized and monochrome silhouettes, that is, painted in a single color (red or black), they are flat and without modeling.


The Megalithic phenomenon could be considered as the first monumental architectural manifestation in Western Europe. Its birth seems to take place at the end of the fifth millennium in several simultaneous foci along the Atlantic, from Huelva (in Spain ), to the Shetland and Jutland islands, and its chronology far exceeds the Neolithic phase, surviving during the Bronze Age, especially in the north (logically also an evolution of the constructive forms takes place).

A megalith can be defined as a construction of gigantic stones (megas: giant and, lithos: stone), roughly worked. Although in later periods the typology diversified, during the Neolithic there are four classes of megalithic monuments: the “menhir” (which is nothing more than a large, uncut stone), it may appear isolated or in large rows.

Sometimes it also forms circles, receiving then the name of “cromlech” (in the metal ages, these stone circles get to develop a lot in the British Isles, receiving the name of henges “ ).

In any case, the menhirs, isolated or in groups, would point to open-air sanctuaries . Finally there is the Dolmen : a collective megalithic tomb consisting of at least one burial chamber covered by a burial mound, which has often been lost (this scheme is the most common, but more complex, or simpler, variants can be found). The burial chamber used to house the remains of a multitude of corpses along with their funeral trousseau.

The decoration of the megaliths is usually abstract, although, as some seem to have a long life as sanctuaries, they also have schematic figurative themes. There are three large nuclei where the decorated dolmens stand out, Brittany (for example, the Barnenez and Mane Kerionez dolmens ), Ireland (with New Grange or Loughcrew , among others) and, of course, the Galician-Portuguese zone on the Iberian peninsula ( with Antelas and Padrão in Portugal; the Granja de Tiñinuelo and El Soto in Spain ).

The first decorative phases are usually abstract (culvilinear and geometric shapes, domes), sometimes engraved and others painted. Over time recognizable schematic forms appear (weapons, anthropomorphs, zoomorphs …). The chronology of this decoration seems to be neolithic, however, in some representations it is possible to recognize metallic objects with which it is necessary to assume a long chronological survival.

Associated with megalithic monuments, but located in rocky areas of the Atlantic cornice, from the mouth of the Tagus, in Portugal, to the Orkney islands in Great Britain (passing through Galicia , France and Ireland ) we can include the Atlantic petroglyphs . Its theme seems to be the same: curvilinear motifs, meanders, domes, spirals, labyrinths, squares … (rarely with anthropomorphic or zoomorphic representations), but its peak occurs in the second millennium BC, that is, the Bronze age.

It is not uncommon for these types of manifestations to survive later phases, as occurs with British Hengs . This decoration must have a strongly symbolic value, representing concepts whose content escapes us.

European art in the Metal Ages

The schematic rock phenomenon in Europe

The arrival of metal coincides, at least in Europe , with a radical change in the style of cave painting. From paleolithic descriptive realism and Levantine narrative stylization, we pass to an eminently symbolic schematism . The forms are reduced to their most essential features, without ceasing to be figurations of real elements (abstraction is not reached except, as we will see, in the westernmost zone).

The schematic rock art has a great development in the Iberian Peninsula, both in painting and prints, but also extends across the Atlantic strip (from Portugal to Norway), but is also particularly abundant in eastern France and northern Italy (both in the Atlantic and in the Franco-Italian area, engravings predominate, that is, petroglyphs).

The development of schematism in prehistoric art has been interpreted as a liberation from reality, as a triumph of the symbolic world and, therefore, would be the consequence of the appearance of much more mature religions . Apart from this, the improvement of metal tools favors the work of the rock, and therefore the inscultures are gaining importance, to the point that the Nordic petroglyphs continue to be carried out until historical periods.

  • The Scandinavian provincehas the highest density in south-central Norway and Sweden, in the regions of Scania and Uppsala Province; highlighting the Tanum area (declared a World Heritage Site in Sweden (with more than 300 sets of rock art). Scandinavian engravings usually appear on rocks smoothed by glacial erosion, they are large and their main subjects are warriors and ships. Scandinavian petroglyphs appear in the Bronze Age, around 1600 BC and last until 100 AD.
  • The province of the French-Italian Alpsis one of the first known rock art areas in the world. Specifically, in the Italian region of Lombardy, the Val Camónica petroglyphs were also declared a World Heritage Site in Italy . Most are from the Bronze Age, though they survive to the Iron Age. There are a wide variety of subjects, but the predominant ones are deer hunting, the human figure and the astral signs, in the end the chariot and the horse appear, and especially. In the Valley of Wonders (Alpes Maritimes).

In France, the protagonist is the bull in various typologies, although an expressive character armed with two daggers known as “the sorcerer” stands out . Precisely, the represented weapons allow to calculate a main dating in the Old Bronze , although, later other inscultures are added that reach until the Iron age.

  • Schematic art in the Iberian peninsula: The entire Iberian peninsula has deposits of schematic rock art, although, to be more specific, it predominates in mountainous areas where there is availability of rock shelters (however, it has non-rock parallels in flat areas, reflected in decorated ceramics, furniture art, megalith decoration, etc.). Despite this, it would be a mistake to consider it a unique phenomenon; rather, we should speak of numerous different regional cultures.

In any case, the rise of the schematic phenomenon corresponds to the third millennium BC, especially the Chalcolithic, beginning its decline in the Bronze Age, although there are numerous survivals much later.

The sculpture

The monumental sculpture connects directly with the Neolithic works that we have quoted about the Mother-Goddess, in fact, in some tombs, rough female characters appear carved on its walls, such is the case of the Coizard’s sepulchral grotto (Marne, France) that follows identical models to the so  called statues-menhir , whose dating extends from the end of the Neolithic to the end of the Bronze Age).

They are monolithic figures, massive, roughly rough, of considerable size, in which, by means of incisions or, at most, bas-reliefs, very simple human features have been drawn, highlighting on the head, the so-called “owl eyes” . The trunk does not differ and the extremities appear only on some occasions. The block is usually furrowed by linear decorative motifs and signs about the character’s sex and condition (necklaces, weapons, tools …).

They appear mainly in the southeast of France , in Italy , in Corsica and in the Iberian Peninsula. The oldest seem to be those of the Italian Provencal Neolithic (beginning of the 3rd millennium BC), where no relationship with the megalithic world has been established, although they appear associated with burials. From 2500 BC they spread to the southeast of France , to the area known as Rouergue (Aveyron and Hérault), where they acquired their full development, highlighting the so-called «Lady of Saint-Sernin» , discovered in 1888 .

The metal-statues of Liguria ( Italy ) already seem from the time of metal : based on the weapons they carry, a long sequence can be established that begins in the Chalcolithic ( type Pontevechio ), continues the bronze ( type Canosa ) and cumina in the transition to the Iron age ( Remedello type ). In Corsica we have a similar succession, some of these works are associated with the Horizon de las Nuragas , born at the end of the Bronze Age although it culminates in the Iron Age.

In the Iberian Peninsula they appear (especially in Extremadura and the surrounding regions), but they probably belong to an independent and later group, at least in origin, since they are not associated with the dolmens, although they are also funerary. They are typical of the full Bronze and, in their late phases, they already represent warriors with radiated helmets and a complete panoply composed of dagger, sword, halberd or spear and shield (fibulae, mirrors …, sometimes, also, tanks) ).

The architecture

The civil architecture of early Bronze Age Europe can be separated into two large groups. In the continental and Atlantic zone wooden towns and villages predominate, with individual houses, also made of wood, and a protection made up of a palisade. At the beginning, such protection was more focused on livestock, but over time it had to be reinforced, given the increase in attacks between neighboring communities, adding walls, ditches and several wall belts made of logs and mud (ex .: Karanovo , Goldberg , I tripled …).

The exception to this model is the Skara Brae site on the Orkney Islands. SKara Brae barely has a dozen semi-underground houses with a rounded shape, built in almost cyclopean stone ashlars. This enigmatic coastal village was abandoned and there are hardly any objects among its ruins, which makes it difficult to date, although it is estimated that it was inhabited in the third millennium]].

The European Mediterranean has very different towns, perhaps by Eastern influence, they surround themselves with thick stone walls equipped with semicircular defensive towers. Inside the powerful compound, the adobe houses huddle, without a specific organization. They also usually have a citadel with specially reinforced fortifications. The most impressive examples of this type of settlement are, in the Aegean, Sesklo or Khirokitia , but also in the west we have Los Millares ( Spain ), Zambujal and Vila Nova de São Pedro (in Portugal ); all of them cacolitical.

During the Bronze the fortifications were perfected and the use of the stone spread throughout the rest of Europe, probably thanks to the new tools. The Stage culminates in the Iron Age with a whole continent full of forts or towns with strong fortifications complemented by towers, moats and fields of piled stones.

Religious architecture is characterized by the survival of megalystism or cyclopean constructions. In the third millennium, it is necessary to emphasize the importance of the set of temples of Mudajdra, Tarxien and Ggantija on the island of Malta (semi-underground and topped with huge stone slabs, they contained gigantic female statues dedicated to fertility; but they must also have had a funeral function , since in one of them, Ħal Saflieni , remains of thousands of corpses appeared).

In the ancient Bronze some dolmens survive in which the false dome cover is already developed (it is not possible to get to know the arch or the authentic dome). In the full Bronze, with the arrival of the complex of cultures of the burial mounds, funeral customs change, from collective to individual, but certain areas retain megalithic-type cultural centers, such as the Henges or stone circles in the British Isles (being the example Stonehenge, better known and spectacular, reformed over and over again from its foundation, around 2700 AD, until its last phase in 1500 AD, more or less).

In the Scandinavian area and northern Germany , the ship-shaped tombs stand out , from the late Bronze. Finally, we should highlight the cyclopean ceremonial centers of the Mediterranean , from the second half of the second millennium, in the final Bronze: we refer to the buildings of the Talayotic Culture (phase I pre- Talayotic culture) in the Balearic Islands and to the Nuráguica Culture of Corsica.

The development of metallurgical art

The copper along with gold , the first metal used are; at first both were obtained from pips and cold hammered. Over time they began to melt and forge in the oven. But copper is difficult to work with and is not very resistant, so the first decorations are extremely simple (pins, fundamentally). Gold could be worked more easily and, from the beginning, embossed or cast ornaments appear.

The appearance of bronze (copper with 10% tin) represents an important step forward, as it is more versatile (it melts at a lower temperature, cools very slowly) and allows for more complicated objects. As the Bronze Age progresses, techniques become more refined, but require not only a specialized craftsman (who is often given special treatment), but a continuous supply of raw materials, which in turn, it stimulates commercial and cultural exchanges on the continent.

The most active center is the eastern Mediterranean , but we have already seen that there are important cultures in the Atlantic , in the Baltic and in other European regions. Weapons (swords, axes, breastplates …) go beyond their war role to become prestigious or ceremonial objects, which is why they are sometimes decorated as authentic jewels, to which must be added other objects of body decoration (brooches, bracelets, torques, lunules …) and purely ceremonial and votive objects.

The end of Prehistory in Europe

The “swan song” of European Prehistory is marked by the penetration of the people of the ballot box, whose impetus led to the destruction of ancient European traditions, being responsible, even, for the decline of Mycenae and almost all European cultures . Only the Atlantic strip could resist his push. These peoples, in turn, to the first culture of the Iron Age: Hallstatt.

Based on their technological superiority and the use of light cavalry, they occupied almost all of Europe, creating a new order that, after a dark period, due to conflicts, led to the birth of the great classical civilizations (Etruscans, Greeks, Romans …) and Celtic, to which should be added Tartessos, in the south of Spain, more linked to the orientalizing culture than to the Indo-European culture. All these towns end up entering the so-called European Ancient History.


Obviously, considering Oceania as a geographic entity is a mere convention, given the enormous cultural diversity and the vast geographical area it covers (the largest on the planet), dotted with hundreds of archipelagos. Except for Papua New Guinea , this area was not inhabited by humans until the appearance of Homo sapiens. Precisely this great island, Papua New Guinea , looks like the springboard from which Australia , Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia were occupied by sea .

However, although it is plausible to think that all these areas were occupied, more or less, simultaneously, Australia does have very old remains (dating back to the Paleolithic , more than 40,000 years old), while the archipelagos of the rest of Oceania only preserve archaeological remains of villages that practiced agriculture (yam, taro, breadfruit, banana …) and livestock (pigs and chickens …).

We are talking, therefore, of the Neolithic , with polished axes and pottery with very recent radiocarbon dates: 1500 BC for Micronesia (in the Mariana Islands); 500 adC for Melanesia (in New Caledonia) and 125 adC for Polynesia (in the Marquesas islands). Paradoxically, some of the oceanic peoples were initially connoisseurs of ceramics, but upon the arrival of the Europeans they had forgotten their use.

Artistic diversity is also considerable, but all traditions share the high social regard that artists enjoy and the role that their works play in maintaining social cohesion. Indeed, the sacred character of the works persists to this day and, with it, numerous taboos that, in general, maintain tradition, impede evolution and sometimes make us face excessively stereotypical and conventional manifestations.


We will discuss here only Australian Aboriginal art that predates colonization and which, despite being (probably) the first land colonized in Oceania by modern humans since Papua New Guinea, remains in its most primitive ways. Australian Aboriginal art is mainly rock, it is natural sanctuaries decorated with paintings and engravings, but there are numerous ritual objects that can be associated with the ceremonies carried out there.

The cave paintings are quite conventional and schematic (reaching geometric simplification), but they are also very colorful (one of the most striking conventions is the so-called “X-ray vision” with which some figures are represented). In addition, not only symbolic and mythological scenes were painted, there are others with a great narrative sense that can be considered real episodes or, more often, dreams .

On the other hand, Australians also practice body art, sand painting and decorated their boats with engravings and made ornaments on shells. Among its ritual objects, certain oblong plates, called churingas, stand out, which, together with a rope, were rotated to emit a continuous buzz (often called bullies ). A similar function was fulfilled by the didgeridoos, huge wooden trumpets that emitted a rhythmic, not melodic, sound that undoubtedly combined with the hum of the churinga and that helped to create an environment conducive to the ceremony of union with the totemic ancestor.

The most representative places of Australian aboriginal art are Bradshaws , in the north of Western Australia; the throat Carnavon in Queensland; the banks of the Kakadanu in the Northern Territory and, above all, the natural monolith of Uluru , popularly called Ayers Rock , the red mountain, in the south of the Northern Territory , almost on the border with South Australia, next to Alice Springs, that is, practically in the geographical center of the island-continent.


It is the group of islands located to the north and northwest of Australia , highlighting above all of Papua New Guinea, although the group of other archipelagos exceeds widely ten. On the other hand, the Melanesians, contrary to what was believed until recently, do not constitute a Negroid racial unit, but their linguistic, cultural and genetic diversity demonstrates a great variety of peoples.

In general, the primitive Melanesians used to be animists, and believed that the soul of the people was reincarnated in several objects simultaneously, which favored artistic creation, understood as the creation of religious objects (statues, masks, masts, malagnaes, drums … .) of great diversity and wealth. At the same time, the primitive Melanesians were quite territorial, even hostile to their own neighbors, so that they did not go beyond the tribal structure in small communities, each with its own traditions. There are numerous artistic centers in Melanesia, but we will highlight the Sepik river valley in Papua and the Vanuatu islands.

Apart from the body decoration , based on tattoos, scars, piercings, paints and feathers of vivid colors, one of the most testable elements of Melanesian art are the large meeting houses or “houses of the spirits” , exclusive for men and usually engage in ceremonies related to ancestor worship . These constructions are of a very diverse typology according to the region or the island, but, in general, they consist of a single room, with a very sloping gabled roof and a richly decorated facade.

The door is usually very narrow and forces you to crawl inside and pass a kind of maze. Inside, the richest works of art, of religious significance, are accumulated: especially carved masts, masks and the Vanuatu malaganes , large polychrome wood carvings that were mottled to the tribe only on special occasions.


They are six archipelagos of coral origin that in prehistoric times were under the influence of the Polynesians, but in historical times have fallen under Malay control. Micronesian art is the simplest in Oceania, carvings are scarce, except in the case of canoes, they are also great craftsmen in making mats, with geometric motifs, sometimes abstract or, sometimes, stylizations of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic inspiration polynesian.

But the Micronesians are not without certain original aspects. For example, the so  called “coin-stones” , large perforated stone discs that were moved from distant areas to the entrance of the homes of the most powerful to demonstrate their socio-economic status. Another interesting example is that of Nan Madol, a great ceremonial capital with impressive cyclopean architecture built between the 8th and 12th centuries AD.


Polynesia is comprised of about twenty archipelagos in the South Pacific, with great cultural wealth due to the successive colonizing waves that its islands suffered. The Polynesians, with a much clearer complexion than the Melanesians, stand out for their extraordinary seamanship and for their desire to establish peaceful relations with other peoples (unlike the Melanesians), and they are much more receptive to news, which made them more permeable to other cultures and makes their traditions more homogeneous.

On the other hand, the lands inhabited by the Polynesians were unsuitable for agriculture (except for certain fruits and spices) and livestock (except for the pig), instead they were rich in fishing. The Polynesians developed, then, a great shipping prowess based on canoes and catamarans of various sizes, depending on the distance at which they were destined.

Such boats, some of which reached 30 meters in length, had a rich decoration carved on the bow, especially, and a mat sails (made of tree bark and so-called tops ) woven with geometric motifs that became authentic masterpieces. Despite the geographic enormity of Polynesia, we will focus on three areas for this brief review: New Zealand , the Hawaii Islands, and Easter Island.

New Zealand

The settlement of these islands is very late, it began in the 10th century and culminated in the 13th century . In fact, the first Europeans collected oral traditions that spoke of this colonization coming from the center of Polynesia; therefore it is very recent. The Maori formed a relatively affluent culture thanks to the resources of the island, therefore, they are one of the towns with the greatest artistic development in the Pacific.

Its architecture is based on the use of huge kauri pines with which they built the “Mara’a” or large meeting houses of Melanesian inspiration, although their access was not so restricted. These rectangular houses, gabled roof supported by richly carved posts, had a monumental façade with extraordinary carved and polychrome decoration on Maori mythology: the lizard as a symbol of evil, the man-fish or Marahika , the whale and many other creatures between spiral and meander motifs.

In addition to the house, the Maori also decorated their barns in a similar style. In both cases we speak of very refined constructions whose meaning transcended the religious to also become symbols of wealth and power. Something similar could be said of their enormous canoes , for which they chose the largest trees, since they carved them in one piece, except for the decorated bow, which was added later.

Maori are also known for the art of tattooing , which was combined with scarification, to obtain relief effects on the skin. Women only had tattoos on their lips, but men tattooed their entire faces, torso and limbs, with designs that were never repeated. Another characteristic of the Maori was the manufacture of jade amulets or “tikis” , in the form of exquisitely finished anthropomorphic monsters.

Hawaii islands

The Hawayan population had a first micronésic colonization to which successive polnesic waves were added that did not stop until the 13th century . The two most original aspects of Hawayan art are, without a doubt, the creation of beautiful headdresses of flowers and multicolored feathers and the carving of idols with disproportionate heads and terrifying expressions.

They could be protective divinities or common ancestors. Finally, Hawayans erected numerous open-air rock sanctuaries with altars and engraved decoration, that is, petroglyphs, throughout the island .

Easter Island

The artistic manifestations of the island of Rapa Nui are among the most original and controversial, not only in the Pacific, but in the entire world. An island of 163.6 km², 2,000 km from the nearest island and almost 4,000 km from the continent, which the European explorers did not find until the 18th century , almost uninhabited, with no vegetation other than herbaceous and with about fifteen colossal heads of stone has caused rivers of ink and countless explanations, some more sensible than others.

Apparently, Easter was occupied by Polynesians from the Maquesas Islands at the time of maximum migratory movement in the area, that is, the thirteenth century. At that time it was covered with forests, which led to the flourishing of a strongly stratified culture with a very powerful priestly caste.

The abundance of resources favored enrichment and this, in turn, led to the construction of innumerable sanctuaries scattered throughout the coastline, the greatest manifestation of which was the Moai : heads of up to 10 or 12 m in height and 50 t in weight, which would represent mythical or deceased ancestors.

Today there are various theories but none fully explain how the moais were made , it is not known how they were extracted from the quarries or how they were modeled, although it is thought that they were transported by sleds, it is very difficult to imagine how they could be erected and completed with a stone headdress, like a hat, and how they placed their eyes encrusted in white stone.

In 1862 a group of Peruvian slave hunters took away all the males on Easter Island, including the leaders and priests. Even ignoring the morally criminal aspects of the action (since it was a genocide), these slavers caused the definitive loss of cultural traditions and oral stories that could have helped to solve once and for all the questions that still persist about the moais and the debacle of the island. The loss was irreparable.

The moai had their backs to the sea on platforms that acted as open-air temples, their faces are polyhedral, with their eye sockets deeply sunk, a forehead very protruding and a disproportionate nose (features that would be softened by placing their eyes). But the people of Easter have other artistic manifestations, such as the Orongo petroglyphs , related to the myth of the Easter egg and the ceremony of the Man-Bird or Tangata Manu; and the rongo rongo , or tablets with signs that could be a primitive form of writing (something unknown by other oceanic peoples).


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