• Danell Ellingson

How Art Came to Be


When we start looking at Art -History we go all the way back to Pre-history, but the question is why? Why do we look at these ancient examples to find where we are today? What do they say about the creators? When were they created? We will never know the true answers but it is fun to speculate, and speculate we do: from deciding that this piece or that held some religious meaning, or that they were telling a story of hunting or war. They certainly could in fact be exactly that but what if they actually had another purpose that we couldn’t even imagine? What drove them to create these beautiful pieces, and who taught them to use the materials they did? Today we will look at the oldest of the known artifacts dating from potentially 3.3 million years ago to about 50,000 years ago, and how they relate to life and art today. I have not studied much ancient history but I am finding this little project to be so thrilling and if I were a few years younger I think I would be right back in school to study archelogy, but then I think that I want to study everything so there’s that.


Some of the oldest known artifacts are from an area in Kenya at the Lomekwi Site in 2011. Here you can find the story of how these tools were found and how they could change the narrative of our ancient history. It has long been the belief that life itself started in Africa, but does finding these artifacts in Kenya narrow this down to a definable area and time? Only time will tell. In the meantime imagine the thrill of holding something in your hands that turns out to be 3.3 million years old. Personally, it leaves me wondering what else they will find as our archeologists dig deeper. Even more of a thrill, to me, is knowing that the tools we are using today to find these artifacts are from this knowledge share through the ages making todays tools possible. No doubt we will continue to find more artifacts using tools who’s origins are really 3.3 million years old.



There is a large gap of time and knowledge from 3.3 million years ago until our next artifact, but next we look at the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka and Daraki-Chattan located in India, where we find artifacts that are potentially as old as 700,000 years old. In these rock shelters they found cupoles and paintings on the stone walls. So far they have identified 750 rock shelters with 243 of them being in Bhimbetka, leading archeologists to believe that there has been human inhabitation in this area from the Stone age through at least the 2nd century. Though these sites were first explored in 1888 it wasn’t until the 1970s that deeper exploration started in earnest.

The painting of the buffalo on the walls is spectacular for its age, but why did they paint it? What drove them to crush up rocks, mix that with water, and apply it to the walls? Was it to share knowledge or was it something more? Did ancient man have the same drive to create these the way that I am driven to create art today? What is the significance of it? Who taught them to use these particular rocks to make paint? All questions that we will never know the answers to, but give us plenty to speculate about.




The oldest known sculpture is believed to be the Venus of Tan-Tan discovered in Morocco in 1999. There is some controversy surrounding her as some believe that this is naturally occurring rather than carved from a stone. Archeologists state the intentional lines forming the extremities makes it man made, while others don't believe this, but I am going to go with it here because it really does appear to be what we collectively call a Venus. I will leave the controversy to the experts and just marvel at the simplicity of the depiction of human form. Who made those marks and why? Did they choose that pebble because it was shaped like a person or did it look different 300,000 years ago? All good questions to be sure.




As I am writing this and looking for the links to add that I have researched I am finding even more new and exciting artifacts and links. Here for instance is a paint making tool kit that is dated at around 100,000 years old that was found in the Blombos Cave site, Western Cape, South Africa. So here we have an actual tool used in the creation of these amazing cave paintings and now I want one. So we can extrapolate that the creation of these cave drawing and depictions were done with intention and forethought. The artist meant for these to be seen but what for? Were they decoration for when they were stuck in the caves for extended periods of time due to the weather? Did they use them as training tools to identify and “classify” the world around them? Did they use them to tell the story of the days hunt or fight? I am just to curious and really want to know the answers.





Since this blog could go on into eternity if I don’t choose a stopping point I am going to end my exploration with these bone flutes. These flutes are believed to be from the earliest inhabitants of Europe and are made from bird bone and mammoth ivory. These likely had no purpose other than that of entertainment and storytelling, making them true art for sure. These bone flutes were found in a cave system in Blaubeuren, Germany in the early 2000s and are dated to around 43,000 years ago. I can't even begin to imagine the sounds they make and the stories told by their owners. Was music always a need the same way that art seems to be? Who would gather to hear the music? Did they gather in small groups around the hearth at the end of the day to relive their pasts and look to their future? If I had a time machine I would definitely want to go to the space and time of this beautiful piece.




I hope you enjoyed yourself as we meandered through a large space in time and have found the oldest known tools, dwelling paintings, carvings, musical instruments, and art making kits. What has always separated man from animal is the use of our hands to make tools, and communication in more than just one form to get our needs met and share information. Maybe we should add making art to that definition as, it would seem, that we have used art from very early in the evolutionary chain to perhaps form bonds, share knowledge, and build communities, through the ages. I will now always be looking at how art has formed us, our communities, and our knowledge.

Disclosure:I feel comfortable using wikipedia in my research for these blogs though if you want more accurate information for research the additional links provided with the photos will get you more of the information that you desire.

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