Museum of the Origins of Man
SHORT OUTLINE OF TWO-DIMENSIONAL PALEOLITHIC ART
Two-dimensional art starts in Far East at the same time as three-dimensional art starts in Europe and in Africa.
The oldest forms of two-dimensional art were discovered in China by Father Theilard de Chardin and J. Pivoteau in 1923 (published in 1930) at the site of the Nihowan lake layers (near Beijing). Those finds were attributed to the ancient Villafranchian culture, which is equivalent to the Villafranchian of Europe. This discovery was published in 1930, in France.
At the same site, remains of ancient animal life, and some man-made engravings on reindeer horn were also found.
The two great palethnologists did not claim to have found "art" but simply" engravings made by man on reindeer horn ."
As a result of research on the evolution of art, and considering that after later, in the lower Palaeolithic, engravings on bone and ivory with geometric motifs, and with a certain complexity, were found, Pietro Gaietto considers that bones with marks on them, found at Nihowan are at the origin of two-dimensional art.
Engraving is the technique by which man began to draw on bone and ivory simple lines and geometric figures and then, natural shapes, like animals, human figures and plants. In later periods, the same subjects can be found in paintings.
The engravings on bone and ivory of the lower Paleolithic in Eurasia are "geometric signs" that appear to be simple, and that had a function in the spiritual life of the people who have made them. We can define this function as "religion". Similarly, both the same type of engravings and the Euro-African sculptures can be defined as "art", although they are so roughly executed that they have little appeal for our current aesthetic taste.
The first representations of animals on cave wall, and with technique of engraving and of painting, appear in Palaeolithic period around 27,000 years ago. They are the work of Homo sapiens sapiens, but not of Cro-Magnon man, whom paleoantropologists say entered Europe from Africa. To the contrary, they correspond to the type found in the Chancelade culture, which seems to have come from East Asia, as archaeological evidences testifies.
It is important to consider that the skeletons found at magdalenians French sites belong to Homo sapiens sapiens, Chancelade man type, man considered creator of magdalenian art (paintings and zoomorphic engravings) of the upper Palaeolithic.
The Chinese origin of Chancelade man was established in 1983 by the discoveries of Chinese palethnologist W. C. Pei, in a cave dug in the limestone hills, at Chu-Ku-t'ien, China. Seven skeletons were found that exhibited Mongolian characteristics resembling Chancelade man and current Inhuit people. Many authors surmise that the Inuits derive from Chancelade man, who at the end of the last ice age migrated from France to the north, in the very regions currently inhabited by Inhuit people. Magdalenian man of the Chancelade type, accordingly, would actually correspond to the current Inuits who, in fact, have the cult of spirits that protect animals.
No evidence that type Chancelade man have been found in the upper Paleolithic in Africa.
In the upper Paleolithic humans spread throughout the world, namely in North and South America, in Australia and in many uninhabited areas of Eurasia and Africa.
At the end of the upper Palaeolithic (timing for Europe about 12,000 years ago), after many more migrations in all directions and from all sides, crosses cultural and racial changes have formed, with many different types, as documented by images of works of art on this site.
In some civilizations, the sculpture is connected by the religion to anthropomorphic deities depicted, while in other civilizations zoomorphic painting and engraving are included in a tradition with religion and connected to a philosophy of nature.
About the evolution of two-dimensional Paleolithic art, we will analyze only its developments in China.
Neolithic period began in China before 6000 years ago (Lung Shan culture), already with diffuse agriculture. In religion there are no anthropomorphic deities depicted in art. Religion is based on cult of the spirits of the dead and rivers receiving offers due to them. This religion among the people of villages continues in the subsequent era of Shang Dynasty in addition to the cult of Heaven and Earth.
In the Neolithic Age enormous quantities of "polished bones" of animals have been found . The farmers of the ninenteenth century, finding them, considered them " bones of dragons", but the archaeological interest was credited with Fan Wei-Ch'ing. There are blades of oxen, sheep, pigs, and sometimes shells of turtles, that different authors define "oracular bones" or "divinatory bones."
As interpreted by Pietro Gaietto, the "divinatory bones" are the evolution of a cult of animal bones carved and painted of the upper Paleolithic.
With the Bronze Age, 3500 years ago, China was ruled by the Shang Dynasty, when writing was invented , and "divinatory bones" are often provided with inscriptions with questions and answers of soothsayers (Fig. F25).
Gli ideogrammi dipinti sulle ossa ricordano la pittura geometrica, e certi segni nel Paleolitico superiore, ma invece sono all'origine dell'attuale scrittura cinese.
The ideograms on bone paintings recall geometric painting, and some signs in upper Paleolithic, but rather they are the source of Chinese writing.
The questions on "oracular bones" ranged from the weather to requests for advice on military campaigns.
The art consisted of engravings of animals on tablets of wood.
The Shang Dynasty produced the finest Bronze containers of the antiquity, with decoration of arabesques and zoomorphic motifs, with cicadas, oxen, sheeps, snakes and dragons of great artistic richness. In them only one way of artistic expression exclusive of China highlights : the t'ao-t'ich, consisting of representations of animals (Fig. F26), which are transforming as they are seen by right or by the reverse, from one side or from the other: the horns of the ox becomes then the body of the dragon, while the foot of the dragon will be a bird, etc.
The origin of two-dimensional art in China is closely related to the religion, which in turn is connected to nature.
Think that in Bronze Age the rivers, for their benefit to the humanity, were considered as civil heroes.
In the first century A.D. the Buddhist religion was introduced into China, and then the construction of giant sculptures of Buddha begin , but the great Chinese tradition of two-dimensional art is ever thriving and continues to evolve, and to transform itself with the new fashions that man invents.
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