Techniques for Creating Paleolithic Art

Painting & Drawing - Pigments and/or charcoal applied to rock to contrast with the rock background

(Cave Painting in Altamira, Spain)

One of the simplest methods available to Paleolithic painters would have been to apply the pigment with their own fingers, but researchers believe cave artists also developed specific tools for painting. Experiments suggest that animal-hair brushes or crushed twigs would have made good tools.  To produce some of the dots and figures as well as the hand stencils (made by placing the hand flat on the cave wall), artists must have sprayed paint (a solution of powdered pigment, water, and possibly some form of oil used as binder) directly from their mouths or through a tube.  Artists also painted figures on the ceilings of caves. In some caves, the ceilings were too high to reach without a ladder or scaffolding.  At Lascaux, cave walls show holes where scaffolding may have been attached.


Engraving - Scarring rock or bone to produce fresh grooves to produce contrast

(Mammoths Engraved in cave wall at Vallon Pont d' Arc, France)

Hearths sometimes provided light in caves, but deep within caves artists would have needed a portable source of light. Archaeologists have found only a few dozen stone lamps, suggesting that torches were more often used for light. Fragments of charcoal on cave walls offer evidence that torches were burned inside caves.


Carving - The carving of stone, bone and other material produced sculpture and personal adornment

(Ivory Horse, Vogelherd, Germany)

Paleolithic artists made objects from a variety of materials.  The simplest forms were made by modifying natural objects by making holes in teeth, shells, and bones, or carving them to form beads or pendants.  Beads, bracelets, and armlets were also made out of ivory.  The vast majority of Paleolithic statuettes are made of ivory or soft stone, but a few clay figurines of humans and animals have survived.