Lascaux cave art
French prehistorian Jacques Caurvin has argued that the invention of agriculture was preceded by a “revolution of symbols.” In the 1970s, he led a team that was excavating an area in Mureynbey in southern Syria, one of the places it is said agriculture first began. Under the layers of sediment that corresponded with the first agriculture he found layers with wild bull horns and female figurines, leading him to conclude that symbols preceded agriculture.

Surveys of European sites by archaeologist Ian Hodder led him to conclude the same thing. At the sites he investigated he found many representations of death and wild animals and theorized that they were attempts by humans to overcome their fear of wild nature. By placing the representations in caves and dwellings, he theorized, they were somehow pacified.

See Early Man Art, Hominids and Early Modern Man

Websites and Resources on Prehistory: Wikipedia article on Prehistory Wikipedia ; Early Humans ; Prehistoric Art ; Evolution of Modern Humans ; Iceman Photscan ; Otzi Official Site Websites and Resources of Early Agriculture and Domesticated Animals: Britannica; Wikipedia article History of Agriculture Wikipedia ; History of Food and Agriculture museum.agropolis; Wikipedia article Animal Domestication Wikipedia ; Cattle Domestication; Food Timeline, History of Food ; Food and History ;

Archaeology News and Resources: : serves the online community interested in anthropology and archaeology; is good source for archaeological news and information. Archaeology in Europe features educational resources, original material on many archaeological subjects and has information on archaeological events, study tours, field trips and archaeological courses, links to web sites and articles; Archaeology magazine has archaeology news and articles and is a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America; Archaeology News Network archaeologynewsnetwork is a non-profit, online open access, pro- community news website on archaeology; British Archaeology magazine british-archaeology-magazine is an excellent source published by the Council for British Archaeology; Current Archaeology magazine is produced by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine; HeritageDaily is an online heritage and archaeology magazine, highlighting the latest news and new discoveries; Livescience : general science website with plenty of archaeological content and news. Past Horizons: online magazine site covering archaeology and heritage news as well as news on other science fields; The Archaeology Channel explores archaeology and cultural heritage through streaming media; Ancient History Encyclopedia : is put out by a non-profit organization and includes articles on pre-history; Best of History Websites is a good source for links to other sites; Essential Humanities provides information on History and Art History, including sections Prehistory

Early Body Adornment

Neolithic farmers adorned their faces with tattoos of blue tridents. The oldest known tattoo is on Otzi. See Iceman Archaeologists have unearthed palettes for grinding and mixing face powder and eye paint dating to 6000 B.C. There is evidence that men shaved as far back as 20,000 years ago. There are cave drawings with beardless men, Sharpened flints and shells have been found in graves that may have been used as razors.

Late Stone Age Sculpture

20120207-Venus Hohlen Fels 2.jpg
Venus Hohlen Fels
The national Museum in Bucharest contains wonderful 5000-year-old fertility goddesses made from baked clay. The plump headless figures resemble abstract version of the robot from "Lost in Space" but the have a small line for the vulva and folds for fat. Dogu were statues created in Japan thought to have been prayer figures used in prayers for prosperity and fertility. There are different types. Some female dogu have big butts and hips. Others have babies in their arms. Many are nude and pregnant. Some male dogu have heavy beards and big chests. Dogu faces are remarkably varied. Many have different expressions depending on the angle from which they are viewed.

Dogu were shaped and decorated using sticks and rope. Their designs and the situations in which they were found vary a great deal leading some to speculate that there were animism symbols, funeral objects or healing dolls. Similar ceramic figures were created in Europe and western Asia in the new Stone Age (8,300 to 5,000 B.C.) as Earth Mother figures associated with agriculture. Dogu are not associated with agriculture because they appeared in Japan before agriculture did.

Tokyo National Museum curator Yoichi Inoue told the Daily Yomiuri, “The dogu’s designs emphasized body parts that weren’t part of the male form, such as the organs needed in giving birth, showing us that those people weren’t interested in the mysteries of life. They are prayers for a safe delivery. Fertility leads to prosperity in tribes and eventually brings productiveness and prosperity in society.”

More than 18,000 dog figures have been unearthed throughout Japan. More than 2,000 dogu have been unearthed in Iwate Prefecture; so many that a guidebook on them has been published. The British Museum possesses a number of dogu and has hosted a dogu exhibition.

Other Worldly Figures and Games From Ain Ghazal

Ain Ghazal heads

Mysterious human figures unearthed at Ain Ghazal, are among the oldest human statues ever found. Made of lime plaster and dating back to 7000 B.C., the figures are about 3½ feet tall and have bitumen accented eyes and look like aliens from outer space. Scholars believe they played a ceremonial role and may have been images of gods or heros.

The figures were discovered 1985 by the driver of a bulldozers clearing the way for a road. The statues were made of delicate materials—so delicate they whole site was unearthed and shipped to a Smithsonian laboratory where it took ten years to assemble the figures.

The figures come in two types: full figures and busts. Both types were made by forming plaster over a skeleton made of bundles of reed wrapped in twine. Facial features were probably made by hand with simple tools made of bone, wood or stone. The plaster technology that was used was fairly advanced and required heating limestone to temperatures of 600̊ to 900̊C

Archeologists working in Ain Ghazal found what they say may be the world’s oldest known game. The game board, a limestone slab, has two sets of circular depressions and bears a striking resemblance to games played in the Middle East today with counting stones. The slab was found in a house, and because it seemed to serve no utilitarian or ceremonial function archeologists concluded it most likely was a game board. [National Geographic Geographica, February 1990].

7100-Year-Old Well in Germany Yields All Kinds of Stuff

Chris Catling wrote in “Thanks to preservation under waterlogged conditions, a well in the federal state of Saxony, Germany, has revealed unprecedented information about woodworking skills, diet, and ritual in early Neolithic Europe. Found in early 2008 at Altscherbitz, during construction work on the Leipzig/Halle airport, the well was carefully isolated and extracted from the ground in one block for excavation under laboratory conditions under the direction of Rengert Elburg of the Saxony State Office of Archaeology. [Source: Chris Catling,, September 6, 2010 /*/]

bronze bead necklace, 1800-1500 BC

“Heavy oak timbers were used to line the well, held together by mortise and tenon joints secured by wedges, the first time this type of keyed tenon joint has been recorded for the early Neolithic. On one piece of wood, the last ring under the bark was present and this allowed the felling of the trees to be dated precisely to the winter of 5102-5101 B.C. /*/

“Complete ears of emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccum) and einkorn (Triticum monococcum) were found in the base sediment, as well as fruits of the bladder cherry or Chinese lantern (Physalis alkekengi) and several complete rose hips, some of them still as red as the day they were picked over 7,000 years ago. Cultivated wheat, barley, peas, lentils, linseed, and poppy seed were all present, as well as weeds associated with human habitation and cultivation, including large quantities of henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), the poisonous solanaceous plant used in very small doses for its hallucinogenic properties.

“At some stage the well shaft was deliberately filled with a rich mix of pottery, stone and bone tools, bark containers and numerous fragments of string and rope, all mixed in with layers of twigs. Above these layers, a pot was placed, formally closing the well. /*/

“This was clearly a vessel of some significance, Rengert Elburg says. Extensive damage to the exterior suggests that it started life as a heavily used domestic pot, with a very slight incised decoration, typical of Linear Pottery Culture. When it broke in two it was mended by gluing the halves together with pitch. The repair was reinforced by binding the two halves together through holes drilled on either side of the break. Then the outside surface of the pot was completely redecorated by covering it with a thin layer of pitch into which narrow strips of birch-bark were stuck in a design completely unrelated to the incised pattern underneath. Traces of wear on the base suggest that the pot continued in use with this new decoration for some considerable time before being carefully placed in the well.” /*/

8000-Year-Old Jewelry and Female Figurines from Serbia

In 2012, Science Daily reported: “Archeologists from the University of Tübingen’s Institute of Prehistory are working with the Serbian Archeological Institute in Belgrade to analyze the most comprehensive Early Neolithic hoard ever found. Work on the nearly 8000 year old collection of jewelry and figurines is funded by the Thyssen Foundation. [Source:, November 6, 2012 +/]

“The unique hoard is composed of some 80 objects made of stone, clay and bone. “This collection from Belica, in all its completeness, provides a unique glimpse into the symbols of the earliest farmers and herdsmen in Europe,” says Tübingen archeologist Dr. Raiko Krauss, who heads the German side of the project. +/

“The objects include stylized female figures, parts of the human body, as well as miniature axes and abstract figures. Much attention has been given to the rotund female figures of water-smoothed stone given human features by human hands. Were they idols, lucky charms or fertility symbols? Their purpose is unknown. The stone objects are mainly of serpentinite from an ophiolite belt running some 40 kilometers west of the Belica site. The rock was washed out of the mountains and worn smooth by rivers and streams. Neolithic artists then selected the pebbles they wanted from the valleys. +/

“Archeologists mapped the outline of an Early Neolithic settlement in June of this year using the distribution of finds on the surface as a guide. In the middle, they found the largely undisturbed hoard. Using modern geophysical prospection methods, they were able to bring buried parts of the settlement to light during summer excavations. “Important finds like this should be prominently displayed in the Serbian National Museum,” says Krauss of the hoard. “But the National Museum in Belgrade has been closed since the civil war.” So Krauss is working with his Serbian colleagues on an exhibition at the University of Tübingen Museum in Hohentübingen Castle. The modern world will first get to see the Belica hoard there in the winter semester of 2013/14. The hoard, and the results of the current investigation, are to be published in German and Serbian.” +/

Aurignacian jewelry, 31000 to 24000 BC

Valdivia Figurines

Around 4000–3500 B.C., ancient people living along the coast of Ecuador produced the earliest representational images in the Americas. Small, solid figures of carved stone, between three and five inches high, have been found at archaeological sites like Real Alto and Loma Alta. Made from calcium carbonate (includes limestone, marble, gypsum, etc.), these tiny figurines ranged from simple ground plaques to finely carved statuettes with clearly delineated facial features. The figurines often possessed both feminine and masculine attributes, such as the breasts of a woman and the genitals of a man. [Source: Department of Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004 \^/]

“Roughly 500 years later, the first ceramic figurines began to appear at Real Alto. While similar in form to their stone predecessors, these fired clay figures varied significantly in detail. They were constructed of two rods of clay pressed together to form the main portion of the figure, and the hair—often elaborately styled—was added as a separate caplike slab of clay. The arms of the figures are indicated only slightly and the legs are separated by a triangular cut. Most of the ceramic figurines appear to be female, with prominent breasts and voluptuous bodies, though some of the statuettes continued to manifest both male and female characteristics. \^/

“Validivia figurines have been found in a variety of contexts at Real Alto, from burials of important personages to refuse piles on house floors. The majority of them, however, have been found near hearths and food preparation areas—activities traditionally associated with women. Based upon these features, the figurines are most often interpreted as fertility figures, though their precise purpose remains unknown.” \^/

Cerro Sechin

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “One of the most ancient monumental sites in Peru, Cerro Sechin is located in the Casma Valley, 168 miles north of Lima. Discovered in 1937 by renowned Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello, the site is best known for its megalithic architecture and engraved stone slabs, which depict graphic scenes of human sacrifice and death. Cerro Sechin is part of a larger group of sites known as the Sechin Complex, a group of contemporaneous settlements in the Casma Valley that exhibit similar monumental public and ceremonial architecture, and which practiced small-scale irrigation agriculture. All of the sites in the Sechin Complex were ideally situated on or nearby fertile agricultural land and their close proximity to communities on the coast provided easy access to marine resources. [Source: Nicole Slovak, Department of Anthropological Studies, Stanford University Metropolitan Museum of Art,, October 2003 \^/]

“Inhabited for much of the second millennium B.C., Cerro Sechin has been the most intensively studied site in the Sechin Complex. It covers roughly 50,000 meters squared and consists of a quadrangular three-tiered stepped platform flanked on each side by two smaller buildings. The platform was constructed in several stages using conical adobes, or large sun-dried bricks with broad circular bases and tapered points, which were then set into clay mortar and plastered over to form wall surfaces. A retaining wall, roughly 4.15 meters (13.5 feet) tall and containing nearly 400 granite sculptures, was added relatively late in the site's history and encircled the perimeter of the building. The stone sculptures, undoubtedly the most famous feature at Cerro Sechin, depict a possible mythological or historical scene in which a procession of armed men, probably important personages or warriors, make their way among the mutilated remains of human victims. Given the gruesome nature of the stone frieze, it seems likely that some degree of warfare, violence, and/or raiding existed among these early valley peoples. \^/

“Though little is known about Cerro Sechin's demise, the site appears to have been abandoned by 800 B.C., paralleling the decline of other important ceremonial and public centers on the Peruvian coast at this time. \^/

“Books: Maldonado, Elena Arqueología de Cerro Sechín, vol. 1, Arquitectura. Lima: Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, Fundación Volkswagenwerk-Alemania, 1992.

Cerro Sechin: Stone Sculpture

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “The elaborate and grim stone frieze at Cerro Sechin has fascinated scholars and laypeople alike since its discovery in 1937. Made from locally obtained blocks of granite, the stone monoliths depict scenes of sacrifice and bodily mutilation. Images of important personages, each of whom carries a club or staff and wears a loincloth and hat, are surrounded by engraved depictions of severed body parts and naked, maimed human beings. The majority of important personages are carved on larger stones, approximately 3 x 1 meters, while the dismembered human remains are carved into much smaller pieces of stone ranging from 0.5 to 1.2 meters wide and 0.5 to 0.8 meters long. Some scholars suggest that the monoliths were intended to commemorate an important battle or conquest, while others propose that the engravings were associated with religious and mythical themes. [Source: Nicole Slovak, Department of Anthropological Studies, Stanford University, Metropolitan Museum of Art,, October 2003 \^/]

“Of the hundreds of monoliths found at Cerro Sechin, 244 contain or represent faces. The faces belong to either important persons, mutilated beings, or severed heads. While the facial expressions of the important personages are fierce and determined, those of the mutilated individuals and severed heads are contorted in pain. Their eyes, often indicated by a solitary curved line or as bulging circles, may indicate death, struggle, or disfigurement. The mouth—the most accentuated aspect of the face—is often pulled back in a distorted grimace, and streams of blood flow from head wounds. \^/

“In other instances, whole figures have been splayed down the center and their inner intestines graphically depicted. While evidence for large-scale warfare during the second millennium B.C. is scant for this region of Peru, it seems clear that notions of violence and combat were present, perhaps even celebrated, at Cerro Sechin.” \^/

3,800-Year-Old Golden Cup Found in Italy

In 2012, archaeologists have dated a rare golden cup uearthed near the town of Montecchio Emilia in Northern Italy to about 1800 B.C., making it one of only three other similar golden cups discovered in Europe and Britain. According to Popular Archaeology: “The cup turned up during a survey of a gravel pit located along terraces adjacent to the Enza River. Previous surveys in nearby areas also revealed evidence of dwellings of the late-Neolithic and Bronze Ages (IV-III millennium B.C), terramara cremation urns from the mid-recent Bronze Age (XIV-XII centuries B.C.), and Etruscan graves. [Source: Popular Archaeology, October26, 2012 ||~||]

“A recent report stated that “It had clearly been lifted up and partially moved by the plough quite some time ago. No structure, tomb or anything else that could be correlated to the original resting place of the cup was found: evidently, it must have been buried in a simple hole in the bare earth. It appears to have been smashed in ancient times, then later partially broken by a plough, which seems to have pulled out a small piece”. ||~||

“Archaeologists suggest that it might have served as a ritual cup, but the difficulty of its context when found has left archaeologists puzzled about the use, meaning and owners of the vessel. As reported, “No other elements – from strictly the same period as the Montecchio cup – were found in the gravel pit area: it thus must have been hidden away or placed there as a votive offering, although some information from the archives, presently under examination, might be able to link the cup to a finding of 13 gold objects, apparently from the Bronze Age, when a field in Montecchio was ploughed on January 18, 1782: unfortunately, the items were melted down. All that remains are lively descriptions from the period”. ||~||

Regarding the three other similar cups found in previous investigations, one was discovered in Fritzdorf, Germany in 1954 and is currently exhibited at the Landesmuseum in Bonn, Germany. The other two are exhibited at the British Museum and were found, respectively, in Rillaton (Cornwall) and Ringlemore (Kent) in the U.K. The U.K. cups differed from the Italian and German cups in that they featured a corrugated external surface. It is thought that there could be a trade system relationship that links the cups. According to Dr. Filippo Maria Gambari, Superintendent of the Archaeological Heritage of Emilia Romagna, “this find ideally links this area of Italy with the henges of the United Kingdom and the area of North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany)”. ||~||

“Scientists studying the vessel found in Italy hope that further testing and analysis will provide clues relating to the origin, purpose, and makers, including its possible relationship to the other cups and the trade relationships and systems that existed at the time of its manufacture. Says Gambari, “this research could change the well-established ideas of trade in Bronze Age Europe”.” ||~||

Oldest Cotton Textile and Oldest Indigo-Dyed Textile: 6,200 Years Old, from Peru

A George Washington University researcher identified a 6,200-year-old indigo-blue fabric from Huaca, Peru, making it one of the oldest-known cotton textiles in the world and the oldest known textile decorated with indigo blue. George Washington University reported: “The discovery marks the earliest use of indigo as a dye, a technically challenging color to produce. According to Jeffrey Splitstoser, lead author of a paper on the discovery and assistant research professor of anthropology at the George Washington University, the finding speaks to the sophisticated textile technology ancient Andean people developed 6,200 years ago. [Source: George Washington University, September 14, 2016]

"Some of the world's most significant technological achievements were developed first in the New World," said Dr. Splitstoser. "Many people, however, remain mostly unaware of the important technological contributions made by Native Americans, perhaps because so many of these technologies were replaced by European systems during the conquest. However, the fine fibers and sophisticated dyeing, spinning and weaving practices developed by ancient South Americans were quickly co-opted by Europeans."

“The textile was discovered during a 2009 excavation at Huaca Prieta, a desert area that offers nearly pristine archaeological preservation on the north coast of Peru. Experts believe the site was likely a temple where a variety of textiles and other offerings were placed, possibly as part of a ritual. The well-preserved artifacts give a glimpse into ancient civilization and lifestyle and offer an unexpected connection to the 21st century.

“The development of indigo dye was critical for future trends in fashion, fabrics and textile arts, Splitstoser said. "The cotton used in Huaca Prieta fabrics, Gossypium barbadense, is the same species grown today known as Egyptian cotton," Dr. Splitstoser said. "And that's not the only cotton connection we made in this excavation — we may well not have had blue jeans if it weren't for the ancient South Americans." The textile is now in the Cao Museum collection in Peru. The paper, "Early Pre-Hispanic Use of Indigo Blue in Peru," published in Science Advances on September 14, 2016]

Some of the oldest cotton bolls were discovered in a cave in Tehuacán Valley, Mexico, and were dated to approximately 5500 B.C., but some doubt has been cast on these estimates. [Source: Wikipedia]

Green Stone Jewelry and Dogtooth Handbags

The development of agriculture 11,000 years ago in the Middle East coincided with an increase in green stone decorations according to a comprehensive study of stone beads unearthed at eight dig sites in Israel. Stéphan Reebs wrote for Livescience: “The sites are between 8,200 and 13,000 years old. Of the 221 beads found there, report Daniella E. Bar-Yosef Mayer of the University of Haifa and Naomi Porat of the Geological Survey of Israel in Jerusalem, 89 beads , or 40 percent, are made of green stone, including malachite, turquoise, and fluorapatite. [Source: Stéphan Reebs, Livescience, October 10, 2008 ==]

“The collections mark the first substantial appearance of stone beads, green ones in particular, anywhere in the archaeological record. In the hunter-gatherer societies that preceded the dawn of agriculture, beads — typically of antler, bone, tooth, ivory, or shell — were white, yellow, brown, red, or black, with only a few examples of green soapstone. ==

“The minerals used to fashion the green beads discovered in Israel came from as far away as northern Syria and Saudi Arabia. Thus, people must have gone to great lengths to obtain stones of the latest color. Bar-Yosef Mayer and Porat propose that with the advent of agriculture, the color of young leaves came to symbolize fertility and good health. Green beads, they say, were probably used as fertility charms and amulets against the evil eye, just as they are today in many parts of the Middle East. The study was detailed in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences” ==

Andrew Curry wrote in Archaeology: “German researchers have uncovered what may be the remains of the world's oldest handbag, according to Sachsen-Anhalt State Archaeology and Preservation Office archaeologist Susanne Friederich. Though the bag itself, probably made of leather or linen, rotted away long ago, the form of the bag's outer flap—made of more than 100 dog teeth, all sharp canines—was preserved. The remains were discovered in a surface coal mine not far from Leipzig, next to the body of a woman buried at the end of the Stone Age, between 4,200 and 4,500 years ago. Dog teeth are often found in graves from the period, usually as necklaces or hair ornaments. "But every woman would argue that a handbag should count as jewelry too," says Friederich. Further analysis may reveal more about the dozens of dogs whose teeth decorated the bag.” [Source: Andrew Curry, Archaeology, Volume 65 Number 3, May/June 2012]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Ancient Foods ; Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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