Pictograms - Pictographs




Pictographs are images painted on a rock face. Paints were generally made from pulverized minerals. Red, white, and black were the most common colors.

A pictogram or pictograph is a symbol representing an object or concept by illustration. Pictography is a form of writing whereby ideas are transmitted through drawing. It is the basis of cuneiform and hieroglyphs.

Early written symbols were based on pictograms, pictures which resemble what they signify, and ideograms, pictures which represent ideas; it is commonly believed that pictograms appeared before ideograms. They were used by various ancient cultures all over the world since around 9000 BC and began to develop into logographic writing systems around 5000 BC. Pictograms are still in use as the main medium of written communication in some non-literate cultures in Africa, The Americas, and Oceania, and are often used as simple symbols by most contemporary cultures.

The earliest uses of pictograms in Mesopotamia predated the famous Sumerian cuneiforms (oldest of which date to around 3400 BC). As far as around 9000 BC tokens marked with simple pictures began to be used to label basic farm produce, and around 6000 BC, with the rise of cities and spread of basic craftsmanship more complex pictographic tokens were devised to label manufactured goods. Eventually, the tokens were replaced by clay tablets, on which symbols were drawn with a blunt reed called a stylus. The impressions left by the stylus were wedge shaped, thus giving rise to the name cuneiform, wedge-writing.

Though written Chinese is often thought of consisting of pictograms, less than 1% of all characters ever created have their direct origins in pictograms. The letters of the Roman alphabet, however, do have their origins in pictograms. For example, the letter A represented the head of an ox, and if it is turned upside down, a bovine head with horns can be seen.

Pictograms remain in common use today, serving as signs or instructions. Because of their graphical nature and fairly realistic style, they are widely used to indicate public toilets, or places such as airports and train stations. However, even these symbols are highly culture-specific. For example, in some cultures men commonly wear dress-like clothing, so even restroom signage is not universal. Pictographic writing as a modernist poetic technique is credited to Ezra Pound though French surrealists accurately credit the Pacific Northwest American Indians of Alaska who introduced writing, via totem poles, to North America (Reed 2003,p.XIX).

A standard set of pictograms was defined in the international standard ISO 7001: Public Information Symbols. Another common set of pictograms are the laundry symbols used on clothing tags and chemical hazard labels.In countries or regions where two or more languages are used, the typical traffic sign is very often a symbol with no writing on it. This is the case for much of Europe and several parts of Canada. Many of these signs, however, offer an abstract symbol instead of a picture, and they cannot be considered true pictograms.




Cave Paintings




Cave or rock paintings are paintings painted on cave or rock walls and ceilings, usually dating to prehistoric times. Rock paintings are made since the Upper Paleolithic, 40,000 years ago. It is widely believed that the paintings are the work of respected elders or shamans.

When Europeans first encountered the Magdalenian paintings of the Altamira cave, Cantabria, Spain in 1879, they were considered to be hoaxes by academics. The new Darwinian thinking on evolution was interpreted as meaning that early humans could not have been sufficiently advanced to create art. Emile Cartailhac, one of the most respected prehistorians of the late nineteenth century believed they had been thought up by Creationists to support their ideas and ridicule Darwin's. Recent reappraisals and increasing numbers of discoveries have illustrated their authenticity and indicated the high levels of artistry of Upper Palaeolithic humans who used only basic tools. Cave paintings can also give valuable clues as to the culture and beliefs of that era.

The age of the paintings in many sites remains a contentious issue, since methods like radiocarbon dating can be easily misled by contaminated samples of older or newer material, and caves and rocky overhangs are typically littered with debris from many time periods. The choice of subject matter can indicate date such as the reindeer at the Spanish cave of Cueva de las Monedas which imply the art is from the last ice age. The oldest cave is that of Chauvet, and is 32,000 years old.

The most common themes in cave paintings are large wild animals, such as bison, horses, aurochs, and deer, and tracings of human hands as well as abstract patterns, called Macaroni by Breuil. Drawings of humans are rare and are usually schematic rather than the more naturalistic animal subjects. Cave art may have begun in the Aurignacian period (Hohle Fels, Germany), but reached its apogee in the late Magdalenian (Lascaux, France).

The paintings were drawn with red and yellow ochre, hematite, manganese oxide and charcoal. Sometimes the silhouette of the animal was incised in the rock first. Stone lamps provided some light. Abbe Breuil interpreted the paintings as being hunting magic, meant to increase the number of animals. As there are some clay sculptures that seem to have been the targets of spears, this may partly be true, but does not explain the pictures of beasts of prey such as the lion or the bear. An alternative and more modern theory, based on studies of more modern hunter-gatherer societies, is that the paintings were made by Cro-Magnon shaman.

The shaman would retreat into the darkness of the caves, enter into a trance state and then paint images of their visions, perhaps with some notion of drawing power out of the cave walls themselves. This goes some way towards explaining the remoteness of some of the paintings which often occur in deep or small caves and the variety of subject matter (from prey animals to predators and human hand-prints). However, as with all prehistory, it is impossible to be certain due to the relative lack of material evidence and the many pitfalls associated with trying to understand the prehistoric mindset with a modern mind.




Southeast Asia

New evidence of ancient rock art across Southeast Asia   Science Daily - November 26, 2014

A bull from the Xianrendong rock art site (Yunnan, China) is a natural projection of stone that resembles a profile animal. It was painted with red ochre to highlight the head, front legs and side of the body. The head has a natural hole for an eye.

The latest research on the oldest surviving rock art of Southeast Asia shows that the region's first people, hunter-gatherers who arrived over 50,000 years ago, brought with them a rich art practice. Research on the oldest surviving rock art of Southeast Asia shows the region's first people brought with them a rich art practice. These earliest people skillfully produced paintings of animals in rock shelters from southwest China to Indonesia. Besides these countries, early sites were also recorded in Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia. The oldest paintings were identified by analyzing overlapping superimpositions of art in various styles as well as numerical dating. It was found that the oldest art mainly consists of naturalistic images of wild animals and, in some locations, hand stencils.




France

Caves at Lascaux, France

Lascaux is a complex of caves in southwestern France famous for its cave paintings. The original caves, located near the village of Montignac. They contain some of the earliest known art, dating back to somewhere between 13,000 and 15,000 BCE, or as far back as 25,000 BCE.




Spain


Red dot becomes 'oldest cave art'   BBC - June 14, 2012


Watch the Video

The El Castillo Cave in Spain -- The refined dating shows these paintings to be far older than anyone thought. Red dots, hand stencils and animal figures represent the oldest examples yet found of cave art in Europe. The symbols on the walls at 11 Spanish locations, including the World Heritage sites of Altamira, El Castillo and Tito Bustillo have long been recognized for their antiquity. But researchers have now used refined dating techniques to get a more accurate determination of their ages. One motif - a faint red dot - is said to be more than 40,000 years old.


New dating method shows cave art is older: Did Neanderthals do it?   MSNBC - June 14, 2012

When archaeologists tried out a new technique to determine the age of Spain's most famous Paleolithic cave paintings, they were surprised to discover that the paintings were thousands of years older than previously thought - so old that it's conceivable they were painted by Neanderthals. The technique just might change the way we think about the paintings, and the way we think about our long-extinct, long-maligned Neanderthal cousins as well.


Hand stencils and the outlines of animals dominate "The Panel of Hands" in Spain's El Castillo cave. One of the stencils has been dated to earlier than 37,300 years ago, and a red disk goes back at least 40,800 years, making them the oldest cave paintings in Europe.


The "Corredor de los Puntos" lies within Spain's El Castillo cave. Red disks here have been dated to between 34,000 and 36,000 years ago, and elsewhere in the cave to 40,800 years ago, making them examples of Europe's earliest cave art.




Africa


Tassili n'Ajjer, Sahara Desert, North Africa

Sahara rock art is a significant area of archaeological study focusing on the precious treasures carved or painted on the natural rocks found in the central Sahara desert. There are over three thousand sites discovered that have information about Saharan rock art. From the Tibesti massif to the Ahaggar Mountains, the Sahara is an impressive open-air museum containing numerous archaeological sites.

Tassili n'Ajjer (meaning "Plateau of the Rivers") is noted for its prehistoric rock art and other ancient archaeological sites, dating from Neolithic times when the local climate was much moister, with savannah rather than desert. The art depicts herds of cattle, large wild animals including crocodiles, and human activities such as hunting and dancing. The art has strong stylistic links to the pre-Nguni Art of South Africa and the region, executed in caves by the San Peoples before the year 1200 BCE.

The range's exceptional density of rock art paintings-pictograms and engravings-petroglyphs, and the presence of many prehistoric vestiges, are remarkable testimonies to Neolithic prehistory. From 10,000 BCE to the first centuries CE, successive peoples left many archaeological remains, habitations, burial mounds and enclosures which have yielded abundant lithic and ceramic material. However, it is the rock art (engravings and paintings) that have made Tassili world famous as from 1933, the date of its discovery. 15,000 petroglyphs have been identified to date.

Some of the painting have bizarre depictions of what appear to be spacemen wearing suits, visors, and helmets. resembling modern day astronauts. This takes us to the west African tribe - the Dogon whose legends say they were guided to the area from another part of Africa that was drying up - by fish gods called the Nommo who came in huge ships from the sky.

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Earliest Oil Paintings Found in Famed Afghan Caves
National Geographic - February 7, 2008

Buddhist murals from Afghanistan's famed Bamiyan caves are the world's earliest known oil paintings, according to a new chemical analysis. The finds, dated to around the 7th century A.D., predate the origins of similar sophisticated painting techniques in medieval Europe and the Mediterranean by more than a hundred years.





New light shed on South African cave art

BBC - February 7, 2004

A huge collection of rock paintings in South Africa is far older than previously thought, research has found. Archaeologists using the latest radio-carbon dating technology found that the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg paintings are 3,000 years old. Earlier findings by researchers had indicated that the paintings by San hunters-gatherers were 1,000 years old. The latest research was carried out by the Britain's Newcastle University and Australian National University. There are more than 40,000 rock paintings at the site in South Africa.

Bushmen cave paintings

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Hand Stencils Through Time
  National Geographic - June 26, 2009
Clusters of hand stencils dating back 2,500 years cover the walls of
Argentina's Cueva de las Manos -- Cave of the Hands in Patagonia.

Clusters of hand stencils dating back 2,500 years cover the walls of Argentina's Cueva de las Manos in Patagonia. Prehistoric handprints and stencils span all continents and began appearing on rock walls around the world at least 30,000 years ago.





Prehistoric European Cave Artists Were Female
 
National Geographic - June 26, 2009
Inside France's 25,000-year-old Pech Merle cave,
hand stencils surround the famed "Spotted Horses" mural.

Pech Merle Cave Paintings - Images





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