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Storytelling with Art

MommyO guides you along mini-adventures in fine art and fun art!

Explore Bird-Headed Man with a Bison by Artist Unknown.

'Bird-Headed Man with a Bison' (c.16,000-14,000 B.C.E.) — Artist Unknown — Pigment on Rock

“You don't have to be a caveman to appreciate Lascaux.” ― Walter 'Darby' Bannard

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Art has been around for a very long time and can be traced all the way back to the Paleolithic Age — also known as the Old or Early Stone Age. Scientists consider prehistoric man to have existed long before the Paleolithic Age. Though, this era did mark a significant turning point in human history as man began to develop and use tools in his daily life.

Made from stone, antler, bone, and ivory — some of these tools helped man record life in the form of cave art. Historically, these drawings are the earliest form of storytelling with art. What’s truly amazing is that thousands of years later, these stories have helped modern man to unlock some of the mysteries surrounding his prehistoric predecessors.

The word prehistoric means — relating to or denoting the period of time before written records, including the Paleolithic Age. The Paleolithic Age began 2.6 million years ago and ended 12,000 years ago. It was the longest Stone Age period. Millions of years is a long time and difficult to imagine. Can you imagine 2.6 million years? That’s a long time!

One of the most famous collections of Paleolithic art can be found at Lascaux Cave in southwest France. It is a complex of passages and chambers housing well over 600 drawings on interior walls and ceilings. These cave drawings are pretty amazing! As contemporary abstract artist Walter ‘Darby’ Bannard said about understanding and appreciating art of any kind, “You don’t have to be a caveman to appreciate Lascaux.”

From the animal pictures at Lascaux, archaeologists estimate the age of the drawings to be around 17,000 years old. The variety of styles tells them that multiple family members and multiple generations contributed to these stories on the cave walls so very long ago. A generation is a group of people born and living at about the same time in history.

You could have lots of generations within your family. For instance ­— there might be young children, including brothers, sisters, and cousins. You would have your parents’ generation with aunts, and uncles too. Then, grandparents, great aunts, and great-uncles. If you’re really lucky, you might even have great-grandparents in your family! Families come in all sizes. With the possibility for so many people in a family, it’s easy to understand how difficult it would be to determine exactly who drew on these walls. Therefore, the artists remain listed as ‘unknown.’



Although our featured artwork today may not have a known artist, the work itself has come to be known as Bird-Headed Man with a Bison. In the painting, look closely to see a bison, drawn in heavy, black lines with bristly fur details; a barbed spear; a less-detailed human figure with a bird head — perhaps a mask; a bird on a pole; and to the left, the partial outline of another large animal.

And the best thing about this painting is that there is a story being told. It appears to be a hunting scene, in which some type of interaction has taken place between the animals and the bird-headed human figure. The bison seems hurt by the spear, and the human might be hurt as well. Documentation reveals that archaeologists remain puzzled by the bird head on the human figure and the bird sitting atop a stick very close to him.

You have probably noticed that the cave painting is not terribly colorful. Early cave art, including these drawings at Lascaux, were created by the artists using a limited palette of just five colors — black, white, brown, red, and yellow. The colors were all made from the local mineral pigments available to them.

It sure was exciting to learn about a group of stone-age artists — whose identities shall forever remain a mystery — AND their cool cave art!


For a fun, hands-on artsy craft — designed to make you feel like a Paleolithic artist with a prehistoric palette — check out Cave Art Craft. It's any day art with everyday materials!



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colorful paper collage of MommyO, host of Art to Know with MommyO vlog, holding a paint palette and a dog