The narrow range of prehistoric art subjects that are animal life and fertility, as well as the remoteness and inaccessibility of many of the cave paintings, sculptures and engravings that were discovered, give the indication that the works of art were not ‘art for art. ‘thus produced for mere decoration. Prehistoric men and women had much more relevant reasons for producing works of art. Some of the reasons for its creation are:
1. A means of survival
2. A form of magic to defeat the animals that put your life in danger.
3. A form of ritual and worship
4. Teaching tools for amateur hunters
5. Recording of information and narration of stories.
6. Fertility charm
• As a means of survival
The predominance of animals in the various prehistoric arts, therefore paintings, sculptures, engravings and pottery indicates the importance of animals in these societies. In fact, the entire survival and sustenance of the lives of cavemen and women depended heavily on animals. The representation of the images of the animals in painting, engraving and sculpture was a form of enchantment or magic that ensured the successful hunting of wild and ferocious animals in the deep caverns and the thick forest. The points below highlight how hunted animals were used to meet the basic necessities of life for prehistoric men and women:
1. The fleshy parts or meat of hunted animals were eaten as food.
2. The outer covers or skins of animals, the feathers of large birds, and the skins of mammals were worn on the body as a form of cloth to protect against harsh climatic or meteorological conditions.
3. The fats and increased marrow of the animals were used as fuel in the lamps produced from stone or clay.
4. The fats of the animals and their blood were used to produce colored pigments and binders for colored ocher from rocks.
5. Animal bones were used for the production of simple weapons for hunting activities and as paddles for mixing paints.
6. Apart from the caves that served as the main refuge for the men and women of the caves, tents were made with animal skins and huts with mud, vegetable fibers, stone and bones.
• As a form of magic to defeat animals that endangered his life.
Prehistoric men were hunters and relied heavily on animals for their survival.
However, most of these animals were ferocious and wild. Hunting these animals was very risky because they hunted them with simple weapons, tools or implements. Because of this, prehistoric men and women resorted to a kind of practical magic known as sympathetic magic or hunting magic. This hunting magic was based on the caveman’s belief that there was a close link or link between an object and its image. Therefore, it was believed that whatever was done to the drawn image affected the soul of the living animal.
To achieve this, the caveman deliberately omitted some sensitive parts of the images of the animal to hunt, such as the eyes, ears and nose. This was believed to prevent the living animal from seeing, hearing or smelling the caveman’s presence on the eve of the hunt. Sometimes perforated arrows were drawn on the bodies of the images. The caveman believed that this would ultimately render the animal powerless or injured, putting the animal under his control. The magic of sympathy was to ensure success in the capture or death of the animal. Fresh or new paintings were made for another day’s hunt. This gave rise to the numerous cave paintings, engravings and sculptures.
• As a form of ritual, adoration and initiation rites.
Images of animals confined to cave surfaces or walls were believed to be cult objects in which rituals were performed for successful hunting activities. It is believed that special dances were performed around the images for a good hunting day. During the initiation ceremonies for young people living in these communities, images of the animals were used in rituals.
• As teaching tools for amateur hunters.
The pictures of the animals served as teaching aids to instruct new hunters on the character of the various species they would encounter when participating in a hunt. It is claimed that experienced cave hunters may have used the pictures to point out parts of each species of animal that beginners should attack with spears, so that hunting is not a strenuous task for them.
• As a means of recording information and telling stories.
Paintings and prints of a group or herd of animals were used to record animal migrations throughout the seasons. Some animal compositions such as the rhinoceros composition, a wounded man and a bison found in the Lascaux cave in the Dordogne in France were believed to tell the story of a hunt or the death of a heroic man. Most of the compositions in the numerous cave paintings were believed to have been prehistoric man’s means of recording events and situations experienced in their hunting activities, as there was no written way of recording events.
• As a fertility charm
The female sculptural figures discovered in the caves were believed to be fertility goddesses responsible for childbirth and soil fertility. An example is the ‘Venus of Willendorf’. They highlight a powerful fertility. Emphasis is placed on the reproductive qualities of the figure: exaggerated or large breasts, thighs, hips, stomach and buttocks with tiny arms and legs. Scholars refer to them as ‘Venus’ because they were viewed as sexual objects for prehistoric men. Also, in terms of function and representation of form, they were similar to Venus, the Roman version of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, who was portrayed nude. These figures were believed to charge barren cave women with potent fertility. They were also consulted through rituals to ensure the fertility of the land when prehistoric men and women began agricultural activities in the Neolithic period.
Prehistoric men and women were great thinkers and philosophers who had powerful reasons for their creative creation, which now serves as the basis for today’s arts. They must be learned and appreciated.