Chauvet. Owl, engraved in mud. (c. 28-30,000 BC)
Photo © Chauvet, J-M., Brunel Deschamps, E., and Hillaire, C. (1995). Dawn of Art, The Chauvet Cave: The Oldest Known Paintings in the World. New York: Abrams.
Reader Bill, knowing my interest in prehistoric art, recently sent me a link to a very informative website. OriginsNet is about "Researching the Origins of Art, Religion, & Mind". The oldest period, predating early Paleolithic, is called Oldowan, a new term for me (an interested amateur). There's a great deal of research material presented, but naturally the photographs interested me the most. In particular, the gallery of Upper Paleolithic Art is stunning with its exceptional quality photos of pictographs from famous sites like Lascaux, Chauvet, Altamira and others. The above image, which I've borrowed, struck me for NOT being a pictograph, but instead it's engraved in mud.
James Harrod, the site manager, is "a scholar specializing in prehistoric art, religion and semiotics". He argues that "by the time of the Magdalenian, there appears to be a religious symbol system in which four animal symbols, horse, bison, ibex and deer, are structured in a complementarity relationship or 'quaternion'. Once utilized in such a semiotic system, the animal symbols can function as a complex, multi-leveled mnemonic device, an 'encyclopedia' of Magdalenian social and naturalist knowledge and spiritual values."
Fascinating. Thanks, Bill!