Art Around the World

New Finds in Search for the World’s Earliest Art

By Tom Gross, December 26, 2000

Two different teams of academics have presented new research suggesting that the world’s first art was produced much earlier than previously thought. First comes a claim that an inch-long volcanic stone discovered in the Golan Heights in Northern Israel provides evidence that humanity, presumably in the shape of Neanderthal man, was creating art 250,000 years ago.

Now British archaeologists have announced that they unearthed pigment and paint-grinding equipment in a cave at Twin Rivers, twenty miles from Lusaka, Zambia, that dates back at least 350,000 years.

If either claim proves correct, it would easily topple the traditional belief that “symbolic expression” began with more modern man in the form of rock engravings in Australia and sculptures and paintings in Europe a mere 35,000 years ago.

The tiny Golan rock was actually found by Israeli archaeologist Na’ama Goren-Inbar two decades ago. But new research by an Italian archaeologist and a Canadian anthropologist appears to establish that it is, in fact, a “figurine” sculpted into the shape of a woman.

The figurine, which was discovered at the Golan’s Birkat Ram, a natural pool, has been examined under a specially produced electron-microscope at Israel’s Weizmann Institute and compared to thousands of other artifacts from the same area and time period. The microscope revealed evidence of grooving and abrasion on ten areas of the figurine. It is to go on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, the British team claims that its discovery in Africa shows that hominids were producing art at least 50,000 years earlier than this. They maintain that their analysis of the pigments’ mineral sources shows that Stone Age men produced painted art before they had evolved into modern human beings, and that such activity likely played a vital role in the evolutionary process. According to the findings, ancient man gathered yellow, pink, purple and brown pigment from different locations, and then, in all probability, used it to paint his body during hunting rituals.

Article copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.