The narrow range of themes in prehistoric art, which is animal life and fertility, as well as the remoteness and inaccessibility of many of the paintings, sculptures, and rock carvings that were discovered, give an indication that the works of art were not ” art for art”. ‘thus produced for mere decoration. Prehistoric men and women had much more important 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 his life in danger.
3. A form of ritual and worship.
4. Educational tools for amateur hunters
5. Record information and tell stories
6. Fertility Amulet
• As a means of survival
The predominance of animals in the various prehistoric arts, such as painting, sculpture, engraving and ceramics, indicate the importance of animals in those societies. In fact, the entire survival and life support of cavemen and women depended heavily on animals. The depiction of animal images 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 thick forest. The points below highlight how hunted animals were used to meet the basic necessities of life by prehistoric men and women:
1. The fleshy parts or meat of hunted animals were eaten as food.
2. The outer coverings or skins of animals, the feathers of large birds, and the skins of mammals were worn on the body as a kind of cloth to protect against harsh climatic or weather conditions.
3. Animal fats and marrows were used as fuel in lamps made of stone or clay.
4. Animal fats and blood were used to produce colored pigments and binders for colored ochres from rocks.
5. Animal bones were used for the production of simple weapons for hunting activities and as palettes for mixing paints.
6. Apart from the caves that served as the main shelter for cavemen and women, they made tents out of animal skins and huts out of mud, plant fibers, stone, and bone.
• As a form of magic to defeat the animals that put their lives in danger
Prehistoric men were hunters and depended heavily on animals for their survival.
However, most of these animals were ferocious and wild. Hunting these animals was very risky because they hunted these animals with simple weapons, tools or implements. Because of this, prehistoric men and women turned to a type 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 bond or bond between an object and the image of it. 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 be hunted, 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 pierced arrows were drawn on the bodies of the images. The caveman believed that this would ultimately render the animal impotent or injured and bring it under his control. Sympathetic magic 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 many cave paintings, engravings and sculptures.
• As a form of ritual, worship and initiation rites
Images of animals confined to cave surfaces or walls were believed to be cult objects on which rituals were performed for success in hunting activities. It is believed that special dances were performed around the images for a good day of hunting. During the initiation ceremonies of the young people who lived in these communities, the images of animals were used in the rituals.
• As educational tools for hobby hunters
The images 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 images to point out parts of each species of animal that novices would aim their spears at so that hunting would not be a strenuous task for them.
• As a means of recording information and telling stories
Paintings and engravings of a group or herd of animals were used to record the migrations of animals throughout the seasons. Some animal compositions, such as the composition of the rhinoceros, a wounded man, and a bison found in Lascaux Cave in Dordogne, 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 his 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 emphasize a powerful fertility. The reproductive qualities of the figure are emphasized: exaggerated or large breasts, thighs, hips, stomach, and buttocks with tiny arms and legs. Scholars refer to them as ‘Venus’ because prehistoric men considered them sexual objects. Furthermore, in terms of function and representation of form, they were similar to Venus, the Roman version of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, who was depicted 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.
Prehistoric men and women were great thinkers and philosophers who had powerful reasons for their creative creation that now serves as the foundation for today’s arts. They must be learned and appreciated.