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Cave Paintings and Megalithic Structures, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

One of the things that sets man apart from the other animals is the ability to create art.  It is our art that allows us to communicate our hopes and dreams.   It seems no matter how deep we look into our past, we find man associated with his art.  When we seek to know our ancient ancestors, who they were, their hopes, their dreams, it is through the art that they left behind that we must seek our answers.  Early humans left behind clues as to who they were and what their society was like.  Even though we cannot hear their words, we can begin to see who they were through statues, paintings, and buildings that have come down to us through the millennia.

Early cave paintings are one of the most ancient forms of art that has been discovered.  We can tell a lot about the ancient artists and the culture they lived in through the symbols, colors, pigments and placement of their art.  Cave art has survived for thousands of years because of its location.   Whether the ancient artists placed it here knowing that one day their messages would be seen by their descendents is hard to say.  However, by placing their messages deep within the caves of France and Spain, the paintings have been preserved.

Two of the most famous locations of ancient cave art are Altamira, Spain and Lascaux, France.  The cave paintings located in Altamira, Spain are some of the earliest examples of prehistoric art.  These fascinating paintings are from what we would call “stone age” man, yet when you look at the beauty of these paintings, it is obvious that they were created by artists who had a clear understanding of art.  The animals, lines and shapes are ones we recognize today and it is easy to imagine that the artists who created them were people just like us.  Images depicted in the caves of Altamira are of animals including bison that are multi colored and include shading.  These animals dance above the ground on the cave’s roof.

In Lascaux, France, ancient art decorates the walls deep within the caves as well.  The complexity of the different animals, shapes and figures is amazing.  It is obvious much time was spent by the artist creating these scenes.  There are many animals depicted on the walls of Lascaux, but oddly the principle food source of the assumed artists, the reindeer, is not among them.  Perhaps these ancient artists were depicting various animals they had seen in travels or visions.  Maybe this is where the tribe would gather for storytelling and ceremony.  The great rooms of the ancient caves could have been an ancient church.

It is obvious that much thought went into these cave paintings.  The men and women who created them spent hours in the dark recesses of the caves in order to create these images.  The question arises in the viewers mind, who were they painting them for?  These were not caves for dwelling, due to their location.  To me, their location deep within the earth was ceremonial.  It is easy for the imagination to fly here.  In the deep, quiet, dark of the cave, close to the heart of the Great Mother, shamans would labor using the light of candles to paint their masterpieces.  It seems that these paintings were ceremonial and part of some ritual.  Maybe they were summoning the great animals they were depicting.  Or maybe they were paying homage to the Gods for bringing them their food, the animals they hunted.  Hunting would have been a very important part of the lives of prehistoric man, as these were the days before agriculture.

Although no one claims to know the exact meanings of the various symbols depicted by the ancient artists, we can understand that they were a socially advanced culture that was banded together.  In essence, though they lived long ago, they were not so different from ourselves.

Megalithic structures are another form of art that has survived the ages to give us clues about the lives of our ancient ancestors. These massive structures, such as the famous Stonehenge in England the Ziggurats of Mesopotamia, were created for all to see and experience, unlike the cave paintings which were hidden from the light of day. Ancient monuments use their form and structure to speak to us as to their importance and meaning in the lives of their creators.
Stonehenge is an example of a style of megalithic structure that is almost entirely limited to Britain. These circles were created using huge stones, some as high as 17 feet-both phrases are copied from the textbook and weighing 50 tons. The stone circles appear to have had both ceremonial attributes as well as serving as a kind of calendar. Stonehenge, for instance, is aligned to the summer solstice, so ancient astronomers could have kept a calendar based on their daily observations of the sun from various sight lines created by the stones.

Megaliths like Stonehenge are difficult to date because the stones do not contain organic material that can date them to a specific time period. However, evidence seems to suggest that these structures are at least as old as 4000 BCE and are thought to have been constructed over generations. The people at this time must have been highly sophisticated to have taken on a building project this massive. The stones would have had to been quarried and carried a great distance. In addition, to place the stones in so precise a manner, the architects would have had to have a great knowledge of astronomy. These ancient peoples would have had to have had a great amount of respect for religion to have applied so much time and effort to the creation of Stonehenge.

At the time when the ancient Britons were creating their massive henges, the Sumerians of Mesopotamia were constructing huge ceremonial ziggurats. The legendary ziggurat of Marduk in Babylon is known as the famous tower of Babel from the bible. The ziggurat was the ceremonial center of the city. It was here that the Gods descended from the heavens to meet with the priests and leaders of the city, at least according to the beliefs of the people. These massive structures towered above the earth, seeking to combine heaven, where the Gods lived, to Earth, where the humans lived. The complexity and grandness of the ziggurats tell us that religion was a major focus in the lives of these ancient peoples.

References

Kleiner, Fred S., Mamiya, Christin J. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: The Western Perspective Volume I. Belmont, California: Thompson Wadsworth, 2006. Print.

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