Aurignacs: people have been making art since 40,000 years ago

(ORDO NEWS) — Since the evolution of Homo sapiens approximately 1.8 million years ago, humans have advanced in many aspects of life, especially in the arts. According to historians, the earliest evidence of humans making art dates back nearly 40,000 years ago in Europe and Southeast Asia.

These people, called Aurignacs, were the first group of Homo sapiens to migrate out of Africa. They are now known as the earliest European culture of modern humans.

After migrating from Africa and settling in Europe, the Aurignacians went through three stages: Early Aurignacs, Aurignacs proper, and Late Aurignacs. The earliest finds of their figurative art, also called Upper Paleolithic art, are from the early Aurignac period.

This art is known as the oldest recorded example of prehistoric art and provides a glimpse into the minds of some of the earliest European people in history.

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The Aurignacians made items including ivory jewelry, such as this Aurignacian bear, horse, elk, beaver teeth necklace found in Mladets, Czech Republic

As discussed earlier, the Aurignaci are believed to have migrated from East Africa to Europe during the Paleolithic era. This was the first time that anatomically modern humans left Africa and settled in other regions of the globe.

They are part of a large group of early European people called Cro-Magnons that existed between approximately 48,000 and 10,000 years ago. According to scientists, the number of Cro-Magnons could be from 1,700 to 29,000 people.

The Aurignacians are known for their development and use of early instruments. Finds of hundreds of different tools and handicrafts testify to the existence of an entire tool industry, in which the Aurignacians developed new tools for work and may even have traded or exchanged tools with each other.

Many of these unique tools were made from horn or bone to create needles, points, and blades. The Aurignacians also used stone to create tools such as blades, knives and points. A common type of stone tool was the scale tool, which was made from a piece or “flake” of stone and sharpened to create various types of scrapers.

In addition to using these tools for survival, it is believed that the Aurignacians also used them to create early works of art such as carvings and drawings.

One example of this is the development by the Aurignacians of the burin, an instrument made from a piece of stone that was used for carving wood, bone, and horns. Ivory carvings dated to around 33,000 BC were discovered by archaeologists at the site in the 1900s and early 2000s.

The carvings on ivory had various forms: mammoths, horses, a lion and other unidentifiable fragments in the form of animals. This carving provided evidence to archaeologists that the people of Aurignac were capable of creating fine art with themes and patterns rather than random strokes and incisions.

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Numerous tools have been found in the Aurignac cave, including this double-edged scraper

In addition to these ivory carvings, carvings of animals on small pebbles have been found in the same region. Artifacts discovered show that the Aurignacians also practiced traditional sculpture.

Over the past few years, figurines molded from natural clay have been found and identified by archaeologists, many of them with animals and pregnant women as a common theme.

These clay figurines of pregnant women are often referred to as Venus figurines and are thought to have been a kind of fertility figurines. The figurines highlight areas of the body that symbolize fertility, including the thighs, abdomen, and chest.

Whether these figurines were worshipped or simply made for good luck is not known, but analysis of the figurines has revealed intricate detail in the engraving and shading of the figures. It is obvious that a lot of time and effort has been put into these figurines to make them accurate.

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Replica of a bone flute made by the Aurignacians and discovered in Geisenklösterl, a German cave in Swabia

Other handicrafts found in the region include jewelry artifacts such as ivory pendants and beads. Completely preserved ivory bracelets have also been found that were carved with these tools.

An important aspect of Aurignac’s art is their desire to make the art transportable, in the form of jewelry or figurines. Although they also engaged in permanent cave art, it is clear that portable art was an important part of their culture.

The Aurignacians took their love of portable instruments and art and combined them to create one of the earliest instruments in history. A number of bone flutes have been found throughout Europe, which have been found to have been made by the early Aurignacians.

The oldest bone flute found is estimated to be around 35,000 years old when it was found in Germany in 2008. The researchers found that it was carved from the wing bone of a vulture and had five holes drilled into it to produce various sounds.

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Aurignac cave in France

One of the most famous Aurignac sites discovered in Europe was found in the commune of Aurignac in southwestern France.

The Aurignac Cave has been excavated numerous times since the late 1800s and was declared a National Historic Site of France in 1921. Inside the cave, archaeologists have found new evidence of tool making and art creation during the Aurignac era.

The first discovery of Aurignacian instruments in this cave occurred in 1852, when a local resident, Jean Baptiste Bonnemaison, explored the cave out of curiosity. Bonnemaison discovered several ancient tools in the cave, as well as more than a dozen human skeletons, which were transferred to the local cemetery for proper burial.

Since then, these original tools have been lost, but the record of their discovery prompted future archaeologists to check the cave for themselves.

Between 1860 and 1863 Edouard Larte, an early French paleontologist, excavated the cave and discovered dozens of tools made from antler and flint.

He also discovered several fragments of human bones and ceramic figurines, as well as the fossilized remains of various animal species, including the cave bear, cave hyena, horses, reindeer, mammoths and woolly rhinos.

By the time the work was completed, he and his team had discovered the fossilized remains of more than 30 animal species, most of which can be seen today in the Museum of Man in Paris. Other finds, including tools such as scrapers and blades, are today kept at the Aurignac Museum in Aurignac.

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Carving of a running horse, created by the Aurignacians from the Cave of Hayonim, Levant

Although not as common as sculptures and carvings, Aurignacian paintings and drawings have been found. The Chauvet Cave in France is the largest example of such illustrations. Charcoal samples taken from the cave show that the drawings are at least 36,000 years old, with some only 31,000 years old.

Many of these rock paintings are symbolic and reveal to historians the origins of human creativity. One example is a drawing depicting the outline of a hand, in which the artist pressed his hand against a rock and painted around it with red pigment. Other drawings show hands where early pigments were applied to the hand before being imprinted on the wall.

In addition to using body parts to create art, many of the Aurignac artists painted animals, including lions and rhinos, rare themes for early cave art. Animals are a common theme in Aurignac’s art, revealing regular themes in their work.

Archaeologists Jean Clottes and David Lewis-Williams observed the Chauvet cave in 1994 and published a book in 1996 with their interpretations of the art.

Clottes and Lewis-Williams discuss the purpose of this art, which they believed was a form of spirituality. Because the cave paintings were so deep, they assumed that the paintings were made as part of a religious ritual.

The emphasis on painted hands throughout the cave may have been an attempt to summon spirits or gods from the rock, or perhaps a way of communicating with them. However, these theories are widely discussed among archaeologists, many of whom either completely reject or fully accept them.

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Negative handprint found in Chauvet cave

Clotts and Lewis-Williams also noted the significant number of animal drawings in the cave compared to human drawings. Since there were so few people at that time, it is logical to assume that animals were a more common and interesting object for early people.

Klottes also analyzed drawings of rhinos, bears and bison in a later study in which he claimed that the drawings had similar finger strokes. This may be indicative of the same artist, or perhaps a general manner of painting adopted by many of the inhabitants of Aurignac at the time.

Jean-Michel Genestet, Clottes’ successor, further analyzed these animal paintings and drew attention to the differences between how each type of animal was drawn.

In particular, he notes that lions are depicted in a more anthropomorphic manner than other species, suggesting that early Aurignacians considered lions to be a more hierarchical animal than other creatures. Perhaps they also viewed lions as a symbol of power over other creatures.

As excavations are taking place across Europe, it is possible that even more art from the Aurignac era will be found. If so, then more information about the culture of these early European peoples can be found.

It can also give us a clearer picture of the history of art and how art styles spread and developed over time. As dating methods improve, historians around the world hope to discover and label as Aurignacians more complex, exciting works of art.


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