Chronology of Stone Age Artworks
Paintings, Petroglyphs, Sculptures
540,000 BC - 1,000 BC
Bilzingsleben Engravings. Abstract markings on elephant bone.
Ochre "tool-kit" used by H. heidelbergensis excavated at Olorgesailie, Kenya.
Quartzite cobble stained with ochre found at Twin Rivers, Zambia. It is the oldest known ochre-processing tool.
Another ochre "tool-kit" found at Maastricht, in the Netherlands. The oldest example of the use of ochre by Neanderthals.
Another work of prehistoric art from the Middle Acheulean period is the Venus of Berekhat Ram, a very primitive piece of rock, incised by human hand to resemble a female figure. It was found on the Golan Heights and remains controversial.
Primitive figurine known as the Venus of Tan-Tan created in Morocco. It is the first example of African art.
Modern humans (the modern variant of H. sapiens) emerge in East Africa.
Neanderthals build the extraordinary Bruniquel Cave constructions, which continue to baffle scientists.
Quesang handprints, Tibetan Plateau, China. Oldest handprints in the world.
Neanderthal shell jewellery made in Los Aviones Cave Cartagena, south-eastern Spain.
Beginning of last Ice Age.
Modern humans start to migrate out of Africa.
Africa's oldest engraving from the Klasies River Caves, South Africa.
Blombos Cave Art, South Africa. World's first example of drawing plus abstract engravings plus sea shell jewellery.
Major migration of modern humans out of Africa.
World's oldest hand stencils, made by Neanderthals in the Maltravieso Cave, Extremadura, Spain.
Red ochre abstract drawings made on stalactites in Ardales Cave, southern Spain. World's first example of parietal art.
Abstract scalariform images created by Neanderthals in La Pasiega Cave, Cantabria, Spain.
The Diepkloof engravings - ostrich eggshells incised with geometric patterns - created in Western Cape, South Africa.
Neanderthal rock cupules created at La Ferrassie Cave in the Perigord, France.
In Slovenia, Neanderthals carve the Divje Babe flute - the oldest known musical instrument in the world.
Cro-Magnons - modern humans originating in Africa - arrive in Europe, as evidenced by tooth and Neronian tools at Mandrin Cave, France.
Sulawesi Cave paintings of wild pigs painted in the Leang Tedongnge Cave, Maros-Pangkep, in Indonesia. World's first representational cave painting, and earliest example of SE Asian art.
40,000 BC onwards
Beginning of the so-called Upper Paleolithic. Cro-Magnons in Europe start to displace Neanderthals. Coincides with the start of Aurignacian art.
Ivory carving of human figure with a lion's head, known as the Lion Man of Hohlenstein Stadel created in the Swabian Jura. This is the world's first sculpture and the second oldest example of representational art. Nearby, the Venus of Hohle Fels - is carved out of ivory. She is the world's first entirely human sculpture, and is the first of the famous 'Venus figurines'.
Abri Cellier, Vézère Valley.
Baume-Latrone Cave, Occitanie, France.
Abstract symbols and engravings made in the Abri Castanet rock shelter, Dordogne, France.
Figurative images of animals and human figure created in the Fumane Cave outside Verona. The first cave art in Italy.
Artists begin painting in Chauvet Cave in France's Ardeche Valley.
Roucadour Cave engravings and hand stencils.
Grand Grotte Arcy-sur-Cure paintings.
Apollo 11 Cave Stones - painted in charcoal and ochre, in Namibia. Still the oldest figurative art in Africa.
Dolní Vestonice Portrait Head, world's oldest portrait sculpture.
Cougnac Cave in the Lot; Venus of Monpazier (Dordogne), Venus of Moravany (Slovakia). Also, the Venus of Laussel (Perigord), Venus of Brassempouy (SW France), Venus of Lespugue (Haute-Garonne) the world's first sculpture with facial features, and the 'relief salmon' in the Abri du Poisson Cave; all in France.
The limestone Venus figurines of Kostenki, Russia.
The Coa Valley Rock Art in Portugal, the first outdoor petroglyphs in Europe.
Xianren Cave pottery - the world's first ceramic ware, from Jiangxi, China. Aboriginal finger-fluting in the underground Koonalda Cave, on Australia's Nullarbor Plain. The giant halibut painting in La Pileta Cave in Spain.
Siega Verde rock carvings, Spain.
Venus of Zaraysk, Russia.
Placard-type aviform signs and engravings at Le Placard Cave in the French Charente.
Bas-relief animal frieze at Roc de Sers, the benchmark of Solutream sculpture.
More ancient pottery, at Yuchanyan Cave in Hunan province, China, and at Vela Spila Cave in Croatia.
Vela Spila Pottery figures, Croatia.
Kangaroo painting in the Kimberley, NW Australia.
The beginning of Magdalenian art. Artists create the amazing Lortet Reindeer - a reindeer antler fragment carved with deer and leaping salmon - in the Pyrenees. In Spain, artists create the Chamber of the Frescoes at Altamira - the 'Sistine Chapel' of Stone Age Art'. In France, artists create the black bulls at Lascaux.
Amur River Basin pottery, Russian Far East.
Font-de-Gaume Cave, painted engravings in the Dordogne.
Engravings at Gabillou Cave and Trois Frères Cave. The animal relief sculpture frieze at Roc-aux-Sorciers in the Vienne. The Cap Blanc Frieze, a superb example of Paleolithic relief sculpture, is carved in the French Dordogne. In the French Ariège, artists decorate the Niaux Cave with an extremely rare charcoal drawing of a weasel, and sculpt the bison reliefs in the Tuc d'Audoubert Cave in the Ariège.
The animal engravings at Les Combarelles Cave. The Great Panel of Horses at Ekain Cave, in Spain. The black drawings at Santimamiñe Cave, Kortezubi. In Africa, paintings and petroglyphs of giraffes, elephants, hippos, and rhinos, are created in caves at Tadrart Acacus in Libya.
The Addaura Cave engravings were created in the final years of the Magdalenian.
In Australia, we see the first Gwion Gwion paintings in the Kimberley region.
Note: for an explanation of archaeological terms relating to prehistory and the ancient world, see: Archaeology Glossary.
The Mesolithic era is the final period of hunter-gatherer culture before the Neolithic. Outside Europe, the period is usually called the Epipaleolithic.
The Neolithic era begins when humans adopt a settled existence based on farming and animal husbandry.
Dates for both the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods vary enormously, depending on region. Here's a rough guide:
Middle East: 9,500 BC
China: 9,500 BC
SE Asia: 7,000 BC
Eastern Europe: 7,000 BC
Western Europe: 5,500 BC
N. America: 4,500 BC
Mexico: 3,000 BC
Africa Sub-Saharan: 3,000 BC
Australia: No Meso/Neolithic
Gobekli Tepe a major site of Neolithic culture built in Asia Minor (Turkey). It is noted for its megalithic art as well as animal and human bas-reliefs.
Stone Age artifacts from Blackwater Draw in New Mexico. In Australia, the first pre-Estuarine X-Ray paintings from Ubirr, Northern Territory.
In Madhya Pradesh, India, Mesolithic artists create rock drawings and paintings inside the Pachmarhi Hills rock shelters, as well as in caves at Bhimbetka. Themes include animals, hunting and dance.
Ain Sakhri Lovers, a semi-abstract phallic sculpture made in caves near Bethlehem. Appeared in the BBC TV series "History of the World in 100 Objects".
Nevalı Çori, Neolithic settlement containing one of the world's oldest temples. Noted for its megalithic art and architecture.
Wonderwerk Cave art in Northern Cape Province, South Africa, includes figurative paintings, engravings and abstract symbols.
Animal & human engravings/paintings on the Tassili-n-Ajjer plateau in Algeria.
First Ancient Greek Pottery, known as pre-Sesklo ware.
Hand stencils at the Cueva de las Manos (Cave of the Hands) in Argentina.
Building of Çatalhöyük, Anatolia. Proto-city and centre of Neolithic art in Turkey.
Jiahu Turquoise Carvings of flutes, Yellow River Valley, China.
Coldstream Burial Stone, Western Cape Province, South Africa.
Fish God of Lepenski Vir. Sandstone carving of a man-god figure, found in a Danubian Settlement.
Development of pottery in Neolithic India.
Vidovdanka, a terracotta figure from Vinca-Belo Brdo, Serbia.
Chalcolithic pottery is made in Persia, featuring ceramic pots decorated with human, bird, plant or animal motifs.
Samarra and Halaf plates from Iraq and Syria, decorated with figurative or abstract patterns.
The Thinker of Cernavoda. Iconic figure sculpture created during the Hamangia culture in Romania.
Chinese lacquerware is developed.
Sydney Rock engravings. Rock carvings of people and animals carved into sandstone, in NSW, Australia.
Evora megaliths, Portugual.
Carnac Stones, Brittany, France.
Breton Cairn of Barnenez.
Gavrinis Passage Tomb, Brittany. Decorated with spirals, mazes, and anthropomorphic motifs.
Ecuadorians of the Valdivia culture create the first representational images in the Americas at archaeological sites like Real Alto and Loma Alta.
Potters wheel invented in Sumeria.
Dabous Giraffe engravings. Tuareg Culture petroglyphs of elephants, antelopes, crocodiles and cattle, from Agadez, Niger.
Elands Bay Cave. Famous for its hand stencils, in the Western Cape, South Africa.
Silk production begins in China.
Ggantija Temple complex, Gozo. A fertility cult centre.
Mesopotamian civilization begins. Uruk becomes first city-state. First wheeled vehicles appear in Europe. In Persia, artists create intricate ceramics in Susa and Persepolis. Oldest known prehistoric bronze sculptures produced in the Maikop culture of the Russian North Caucasus.
Jade carving begins in China.
Priest-King of Mesopotamia. Limestone statuette from Iraq.
Beginning of the Bronze Age culture in the Fertile Crescent. It wouldn't reach Britain until 1,900 BC. Sumerian civilization begins in southern Iraq. It develops the Ziggurat - a type of stepped pyramid made from clay-fired bricks (2,100 BC). First writing system (hieroglyphs) invented.
Newgrange Passage Tomb. Extensive necropolis noted for its spiral and rhombus-shaped decoration, as well as concentric circles, herring bone patterns and zig-zags.
Knowth Passage Tomb. Estimated to comprise one quarter of all the megalithic art produced in Europe.
More complex copper-and-tin bronze casting techniques invented during the Indus Valley Civilization of India.
First wheeled transport developed in Sumeria. Egyptians paint murals on the walls of tombs, to help the occupants cope in the next world.
Stonehenge Stone Circle. The world famous assemblage of large upright stones (menhirs).
Niola Doa (Beautiful Ladies). Monumental engravings of female figures on the Ennedi Plateau, Chad.
Kneeling Bull with Vessel. An early masterpiece of silver metalwork, made by Mesopotamian silversmiths during the Proto-Elamite era. Also, the Guennol Lioness, a silver sculpture of a lioness-woman.
Emergence of Beaker culture in Europe (named for its distinctive drinking vessels.
Egyptians create first painted relief sculptures.
Ram in a Thicket. Famous example of Sumerian art from ancient Iraq.
Egyptian Pyramids are built. Includes: Djoser's Step Pyramid at Saqqara (2630) and the Great Pyramid at Giza (2550). The Egyptians then build the largest sculpture of the ancient world - a sphinx with the face of the pharaoh Khufu - to guard the pyramids at Giza.
- Maikop Gold Bull is cast.
- Start of Aegean Art.
- Dancing Girl of Mohenjo-Daro.
- Xia Dynasty culture, China.
Minoan Palaces built and rebuilt on Crete.
The written Code of Hammurabi (laws) is displayed across Babylonia.
First example of outstanding Chinese art - the Shang Dynasty bronzes, as well as the earliest Calligraphy.
Linear A script is invented by Minoans. Start of Hittite and Assyrian art.
Mycenaean civilisation flourishes on Greek mainland. Glass making mastered in Mesopotamia.
Temple of Amon-Ra at Karnak built to honour the god Amon at Thebes.
Iron Age Art begins in Europe.
Myceneans invent new form of writing based on Minoan Linear B script.
Myceneans (Greek mainland) overcome Minoans on Crete.
Amenhotep III builds the Temple of Amon at Luxor.
Rameses II constructs the Colossus at Memphis, and adds the Hypostyle Hall to the Karnak temple in Luxor.
Decline of Mycenean civilization. Pre-Columbian art starts in mesoamerica and South America.
Sanxingdui Bronzes - giant bronze sculptures of human faces & masks - created in Sichuan, China.
Fall of Troy in Asia Minor.
Kingdom of Israel is founded.
Geometric style of Greek Pottery appears.
Massive heads carved in stone by the Olmecs, the first major pre-Columbian civilization of Mesoamerica, who set many patterns developed by later American cultures of Mexico and Central America, like the Maya and the Aztec.