Stone Age Art: Art Made of Stone? Part 2

We’re taking a giant leap into 7000 BCE, the Neolithic age, where great societies emerged in Anatolia and Mesopotamia (what is now Turkey and Syria/Iraq). One of those was Jericho, which laid on a plateau in the Jordan River Valley. The citizens built mud-brick houses, farmed, and constructed a walled fortification. Eventually, the people abandoned Jericho giving way to new settlers who built larger rectangular structures with painted floors and walls. It is believed that they were shrines because archaeologists had found figurines of animals and women.

These people would bury their dead underneath their homes, but not before claiming the skulls for themselves. They took these skulls and adorned them with seashells for eyes and plaster to fill in the gaps. There was one found that had a painted-on mustache. The heads found constituted the first known gallery of portraits. Of course, later, they just painted people before their passing. Archaeologists believe the purpose of the skulls was for ritualistic beliefs in the connection between their ancestors and the afterlife. They thought that the dead had power over the living.

Another ancient settlement was the Ain Ghazal, near what is now the capital of Jordan, Amman. From 7200 to 5000 BCE, the citizens built stone houses with floors and walls made with plaster. What was found there by archaeologists were caches of about three dozen statuettes and busts made of plaster. Oddly, some of the busts had two heads. The white plaster covered the core; it was made up of reeds and twine mixed with bitumen (some tar-like liquid). They stand out (literally) from the Venus of Willendorf and the Hohlenstein-Stadel figures by their sizes, most of which are 3 feet tall. This started off the history of large-scale sculptures in the land of Mesopotamia.

Looking back to wall paintings, in the ancient city of Catal Hoyuk, which flourished between 6500 – 5700 BCE, painted hunting scenes were found in decorated rooms. The murals are vastly different from the Paleolithic cave paintings in that humans were added to the scene and seen in groups; with different poses. The idea of narration is vital because archaeologists have found human interactions with animals and their need for dominance over them, viewed in all Neolithic art. The Catal Hoyuk mural tells the story of a hunting party complete with discernable facial features and weapons in hand, chasing after red deer.

At this point, there was a shift from the Paleolithic art style to the Neolithic art style. If you take anything away from this article to understand better Paleolithic and Neoliothic’s difference, understand that in Neolithic, the painters used paint brushes and would prepare the wall for painting. One of the unique finds, which dates back to 6150 BCE, is the landscape mural found in one of the decorated rooms in Catal Hoyuk. It’s the world’s first landscape image and had remained one of a kind for thousands of years. Archaeologists determined that it was a mural of the city with wobbling squares depicting homes. In the background, a twin-peaked volcano can be seen erupting.

Hopping over to Europe, there was plenty of Paleolithic imagery to be seen, but it didn’t change over to Neolithic. Around 4000 BCE, many European communities constructed monuments with enormous stones as high as 17 feet and weighing 50 tons. Historians gave them the name Megaliths, and instead of categorizing them as Neolithic, they are known as Megalithic.

The oldest known megalithic monument is in Newgrange, Ireland, and it dates to 3200 BCE. It is a funerary monument with a passage grave into a burial chamber under a tumulus (sounds like a cloud, but it’s not); a burial mound.

As a curious tourist, I had entered the burial mound and walked the long passage. It is a tight passage into a small dark chamber. Not for people who have claustrophobia. I do consider myself claustrophobic, but it was a chance I didn’t want to let go. The experience was both awe-inspiring and humbling. You can feel how ancient the mound was, and you get a view of how light would enter the passageway into the chamber during the winter solstice. The fascinating part of the chamber is looking up and seeing the corbeled dome. The megaliths were placed strategically to be held up by their weight. You will also spy decorated stones with spirals incised with a tool.

The burial mounds of Newgrange aren’t the only ones. There are others in England, France, Spain, and Scandinavia. A true testimony to the significance of honoring the dead during Neolithic times. By the fourth millennium, Neolithic peoples had gone as far as Skara Brae in the Orkney Islands and to the far south in Malta.

In Malta, in a place called Hagar Qim, a megalithic temple was built between 3200 and 2500 BCE. The architects built the temple by stacking stones in horizontal rows, called courses. Doors were done in a post-and-lintel system—kind of like what you would do as a child with wooden blocks. Upright stones were posts, and horizontal stones were the lintel. What was found inside the temple were altars and headless nude women. It was indeed an early stage in sophistication.

The most famous of all of the megalithic monuments is Stonehenge in Salisbury Plain, England. The backstory on Stonehenge is remarkable. First, I’ll explain what the word means. Henge means a circular arrangement of stones and stone… well, you should know what that means. The stones are either sarsen, a type of sandstone and bluestones, volcanic rocks. The middle encompasses a ring of bluestones surrounding a horseshoe of three-stone constructions; trilithons. Standing on its own is a heel stone, a tiny nub of a stone to indicate where the sun would rise when it was the summer solstice. Don’t worry; there’s no quiz at the bottom of this post.

Backstory and this includes recent discoveries, is that Stonehenge is a funerary sight. For many years, archaeologists weren’t entirely sure. It was built in stages taking up hundreds of years and different generations of people.

I had visited both Stonehenge and the newly discovered items on exhibit at the local natural history museum. When you visit the site, you are not as close as you would like, but you do get to walk around it. As you walk, you notice that mounds are surrounding you and the megalithic monument. You start to imagine what ancient life was like and what they did in the center of Stonehenge.

At the exhibit, animal and human bones found at Stonehenge were on display, along with tools and flints. There are also models to show how these people could take these large stones from a long distance away to where it stands now.

Published by Jeydie W

I'm a creative writer, blogger, podcaster and YouTube gamer. I have three books published, two blogs and a gaming channel that I participate in as Woolly Mammoth Gaming on YouTube. I have a successful podcast called Chillingly Bizarre, it's a fiction horror short stories podcast. I recently moved from Miami to Denver, and I live with my husband and shelter dog.

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