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Prehistory

Avebury Henge, 2600 BCEMenhir de Champ-Dolent, 2000 BCE

Ritual artifacts and standing stones from the foggy years before written history

Our story begins, quite literally, in 40,000 BCE. Homosapiens have supplanted the neanderthals, and over the millennia that follow this new breed of human develops spoken language and the first expressions of creativity. We call these first 35,000 years of human history ‘prehistory’ because it is the time before the invention of written language. A time when oral traditions were passed on from generation by speaking and hearing. The stories and cultures of these early people are long gone, and without written records, the only information we have about their lives is what we can glean from the few surviving artifacts they left behind.

Prehistory is commonly divided into three periods. The Paleolithic, from 40,000 - 10,000 BCE., when hunter-gatherers roamed europe. Excavations all over the world have uncovered stone figures and tools that date to this period, as well as cave paintings hidden during the intervening millennia. The surprise of these Paleolithic artworks is in their expression. The hunter-gatherers societies carved voluptuous female figures, emphasizing fertility through breasts and thighs. These ‘venuses’ as they were called in reference to the greek goddess of love, are usually small objects, just a few centimeters tall, but their posture and detail show reverence. Likewise, the paintings at sites like Lasceaux show rich, earthy pigments made from ocher, hematite and manganese applied to rhythmic stampedes of bison and elk. Historians speculate that these caves were ritual spaces, where picture-magic was invoked to encourage a successful hunt. All we truly know is that these early people understood the beauty of animals in motion, and obsessed over the female form. Preoccupations that make them seem not so distant to the picture-makers of today.

The Mesolithic period 10,000 - 5000 BCE, began with the end of the last ice age. Very few Mesolithic artefacts have been discovered, but the invention of the bow and arrow, the development of fishing, and the first agricultural cultivation brought a semblance of stability to the tribes and cultures of the era.

Finally, the Neolithic era appeared at different times around the globe, and lasted from roughly 8000 - 2000 BCE. The defining legacy of Neolithic societies are thousands of massive stone constructions and earthworks, signalling the development of thriving, collaborative societies and possibly early religion. There are three common forms of Neolithic monuments: menhirs, massive stones stood upright and often grouped into rings or rows known as cromlechs, dolmens, vertical stones supporting a stone roof, which often acted as burial sites, and earthworks like mounds and trenches. Stonehenge is certainly the most well known Neolithic construction, but it’s important to understand the massive scale of this movement. There are thousands of these structures in Asia, Europe, Japan and the Middle East. Their meaning is lost to time but the ability of early humans to move stones weighing up to 100 tons, and orient them to astronautical movements provokes investigation to this day.

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Artifacts of Prehistory

The Kilclooney Dolmen

The Kilclooney Dolmen

3000 BCE-2000 BCE
Pentre Ifan Dolmen

Pentre Ifan Dolmen

3500 BCE
Avebury's Menhirs

Avebury's Menhirs

2600 BCE
Avebury Henge

Avebury Henge

2600 BCE
Arbor Low Henge

Arbor Low Henge

2400 BCE
Arbor Low Stones

Arbor Low Stones

2400 BCE
Ring of Brodgar's Menhir's

Ring of Brodgar's Menhir's

2300 BCE
Neolithic marble female figure

Neolithic marble female figure

4500 BCE-4000 BCE
Venus of Willendorf

Venus of Willendorf

28000 BCE-25000 BCE
Cave of Hands — Patagonia, Argentina

Cave of Hands — Patagonia, Argentina

13000 BCE-9000 BCE
The Callanish Standing Stones

The Callanish Standing Stones

2900 BCE-2600 BCE
Menhir de Champ-Dolent

Menhir de Champ-Dolent

5500 BCE-2000 BCE
Keilmesser Neolithic Stone Tool

Keilmesser Neolithic Stone Tool

30000 BCE
YangShao Neolithic Amphora

YangShao Neolithic Amphora

3000 BCE
Majiayao Neolithic Geometric Bowl

Majiayao Neolithic Geometric Bowl

3300 BCE-2650 BCE
Vogelherd Ivory Lion Figurine

Vogelherd Ivory Lion Figurine

40000 BCE
Heavy Jade Cong 琮

Heavy Jade Cong 琮

3300 BCE-2000 BCE
Liangzhu Neolithic Bi Disk

Liangzhu Neolithic Bi Disk

3300 BCE-2200 BCE
Liangzhu Jade Cong

Liangzhu Jade Cong

2400 BCE
Towie Ball

Towie Ball

3000 BCE
Bronze Villanovan Crested Helmet

Bronze Villanovan Crested Helmet

900 BCE
Harness Trapping in the Shape of a Horse

Harness Trapping in the Shape of a Horse

900 BCE
Hut Urn

Hut Urn

800 BCE
Seated Woman of Çatalhöyük

Seated Woman of Çatalhöyük

6000 BCE
Bronze Basin

Bronze Basin

700 BCE
Harhoog

Harhoog

3000 BCE

Next era: Ancient WorldThe invention of written language to the fall of the Roman Empire.