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Prehistoric Art Timeline

Chronology of Stone Age Artworks
Paintings, Petroglyphs, Sculptures
540,000 BC - 1,000 BC

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CONTENTS

Lower Paleolithic Art Timeline

540,000-430,000 BC
The world's oldest art is the Trinil Shell Engravings created by early humans (H. erectus) in Java. It's also the earliest example of decorative art.

500,000 BC
Earliest use of ochre pigments known to archaeology, according to evidence from a cluster of sites in the sparsely populated Northern Cape Province of South Africa.

350,000-400,000 BC
Bilzingsleben Engravings. Abstract markings on elephant bone.

307,000 BC
Ochre "tool-kit" used by H. heidelbergensis excavated at Olorgesailie, Kenya.

Middle Paleolithic Art Timeline

300,000 BC
Archaic H. sapiens emerges in southern or East Africa. Meantime, in Europe, Neanderthals introduce the Mousterian tool culture.

266,000 BC
Quartzite cobble stained with ochre found at Twin Rivers, Zambia. It is the oldest known ochre-processing tool.

250,000 BC
Another ochre "tool-kit" found at Maastricht, in the Netherlands. The oldest example of the use of ochre by Neanderthals.

230,000 BC
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.

200,000 BC
Minimum age of the Cupules found in the Auditorium Cave at Bhimbetka and the Daraki-Chattan rock shelter near Bhanpura.

200,000 BC
Primitive figurine known as the Venus of Tan-Tan created in Morocco. It is the first example of African art.

195,000 BC
Modern humans (the modern variant of H. sapiens) emerge in East Africa.

175,000 BC
Neanderthals build the extraordinary Bruniquel Cave constructions, which continue to baffle scientists.

167,000 BC
Quesang handprints, Tibetan Plateau, China. Oldest handprints in the world.

130,000 BC
Neanderthal jewellery at the Krapina Neanderthal Site, also known as Hušnjakovo Hill. Oldest example of Neanderthal art in Europe.

115,000 BC
Neanderthal shell jewellery made in Los Aviones Cave Cartagena, south-eastern Spain.

110,000 BC
Beginning of last Ice Age.

100,000 BC
Modern humans start to migrate out of Africa.

100,000-85,000 BC
Africa's oldest engraving from the Klasies River Caves, South Africa.

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75,000 BC
Blombos Cave Art, South Africa. World's first example of drawing plus abstract engravings plus sea shell jewellery.

70-60,000 BC
Major migration of modern humans out of Africa.

64,700 BC
World's oldest hand stencils, made by Neanderthals in the Maltravieso Cave, Extremadura, Spain.

63,000 BC
Red ochre abstract drawings made on stalactites in Ardales Cave, southern Spain. World's first example of parietal art.

62,000 BC
Abstract scalariform images created by Neanderthals in La Pasiega Cave, Cantabria, Spain.

60,000 BC
The Diepkloof engravings - ostrich eggshells incised with geometric patterns - created in Western Cape, South Africa.

60,000 BC
Neanderthal rock cupules created at La Ferrassie Cave in the Perigord, France.

60-50,000 BC
In Slovenia, Neanderthals carve the Divje Babe flute - the oldest known musical instrument in the world.

55,000 BC
Neanderthals create the world's oldest parietal engravings in La Roche-Cotard Cave, Loire Valley.

54,000 BC
Cro-Magnons - modern humans originating in Africa - arrive in Europe, as evidenced by tooth and Neronian tools at Mandrin Cave, France.

43,500 BC
Sulawesi Cave paintings in Indonesia. See the wild pigs painted in the Leang Tedongnge Cave - the world's oldest representational cave painting. Next oldest, is the famous hunting scene involving humans, buffaloes and wild pigs, in the Leang Bulu' Sipong 4 Cave, dated to 41,900 BC.

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Upper Paleolithic Art Timeline

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.

38,000 BC
Animal painting and hand stencils in the East Kalimantan Caves in Borneo. See Lubang Jeriji Saléh Cave and its wild bull.

38,000 BC
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'. See also the red disks at El Castillo Cave, Spain.

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37,000 BC
Figure paintings at Altxerri Cave in the Basque Country. Abstract etching on stone found in Gorham's Cave, Gibraltar.

36,000 BC
Abri Cellier, Vézère Valley.

35,500 BC
Baume-Latrone Cave, Occitanie, France.

35,000 BC
Abstract symbols and engravings made in the Abri Castanet rock shelter, Dordogne, France.

34,500 BC
Figurative images of animals and human figure created in the Fumane Cave outside Verona. The first cave art in Italy.

34,500 BC
Artists begin painting in Chauvet Cave in France's Ardeche Valley.

34,000 BC
Red claviform symbols drawn in Altamira Cave, in Cantabria, Spain. Anthropomorphic figures in the Tito Bustillo Cave.This period marks the start of Gravettian art.

30,000 BC
Burrup Rock art (Pilbara), Ubirr Rock Paintings (N.T.) and Kimberley Rock Art. Charcoal drawings of horses and bison are created in the Coliboaia Cave in Romania.

28,000 BC
Venus of Willendorf and Venus of Galgenberg carved in Lower Austria.

27,000 BC
Venus of Dolni Vestonice, the world's first example of ceramic art from Romania. Pech Merle Cave at Cabrerets, France.

27,000 BC
Roucadour Cave engravings and hand stencils.

26,700 BC
Grand Grotte Arcy-sur-Cure paintings.

26,500 BC
Rock engravings of woolly mammoths and aurochs made in the Grotte des Deux-Ouvertures (26,500 BC), Ardeche Valley, and at Cussac Cave in the Périgord.

26,000 BC
Venus of Savignano and Nawarla Gabarnmang rock art, the oldest example of aboriginal rock art in Australia.

25,500 BC
Apollo 11 Cave Stones - painted in charcoal and ochre, in Namibia. Still the oldest figurative art in Africa.

25,000 BC
Artworks include: the Grimaldi Venuses, the Gargas Cave hand stencils, and the Cosquer Cave art from France.

24,000 BC
Dolní Vestonice Portrait Head, world's oldest portrait sculpture.

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23,000 BC
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.

22,500 BC
The limestone Venus figurines of Kostenki, Russia.

21-28,000 BC
The Coa Valley Rock Art in Portugal, the first outdoor petroglyphs in Europe.

21,000 BC
Avdeevo Venuses, Kursk. Venus of Moravany, Slovakia.

20,000 BC
Beginning of Solutrean art. Several Russian figurines are made at start of the Solutrean culture, including: the Mal'ta Venuses, the Buret Venuses and the Gagarino Venuses.

19,500-19,000 BC
Earliest art created at Lascaux Cave, a key site of Franco-Cantabrian cave art.

18,000 BC
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.

18,000-12,000 BC
Siega Verde rock carvings, Spain.

18,000 BC
Venus of Zaraysk, Russia.

17,700 BC
Placard-type aviform signs and engravings at Le Placard Cave in the French Charente.

17,200 BC
Bas-relief animal frieze at Roc de Sers, the benchmark of Solutream sculpture.

16,000 BC
More ancient pottery, at Yuchanyan Cave in Hunan province, China, and at Vela Spila Cave in Croatia.

15,500 BC
Vela Spila Pottery figures, Croatia.

15,300 BC
Kangaroo painting in the Kimberley, NW Australia.

15,000 BC
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.

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14,500 BC
First Jōmon pottery, at the Odaiyamamoto I site, Japan; and the the red ochre mammoths at the Kapova Cave, in the in the Shulgan-Tash Nature Reserve.

14,200 BC
Amur River Basin pottery, Russian Far East.

14,000 BC
Font-de-Gaume Cave, painted engravings in the Dordogne.

13,000 BC
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 Venuses of Petersfels are made in the Brudertal Valley. Another creation is the Venus of Eliseevichi, Bryansk.

12,500 BC
Black drawings at Le Portel Cave, Ariège. Painted engravings at Atxurra Cave in the Basque Country. Reindeer engraving at Cathole Cave in south Wales.

12,000 BC
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.

11,000 BC
The huge Rouffignac Cave - 'cave of a hundred mammoths' - and the Swimming Reindeer from Abri Montastruc.

The Addaura Cave engravings were created in the final years of the Magdalenian.

10,000 BC
The Swiss Venus of Monruz-Neuchâtel. To the East, the Shigir Idol, the world's oldest wood carving, is created in the Urals.

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.

Mesolithic/Neolithic Timeline

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

9,500 BC
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.

9,000 BC
Stone Age artifacts from Blackwater Draw in New Mexico. In Australia, the first pre-Estuarine X-Ray paintings from Ubirr, Northern Territory.

9,000 BC
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.

9,000 BC
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".

8,600 BC
Nevalı Çori, Neolithic settlement containing one of the world's oldest temples. Noted for its megalithic art and architecture.

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8,200 BC
Wonderwerk Cave art in Northern Cape Province, South Africa, includes figurative paintings, engravings and abstract symbols.

8,000 BC
Animal & human engravings/paintings on the Tassili-n-Ajjer plateau in Algeria.

7,500-7,000 BC
First Ancient Greek Pottery, known as pre-Sesklo ware.

7,300 BC
Hand stencils at the Cueva de las Manos (Cave of the Hands) in Argentina.

7,100-5,600 BC
Building of Çatalhöyük, Anatolia. Proto-city and centre of Neolithic art in Turkey.

7,000 BC
Jiahu Turquoise Carvings of flutes, Yellow River Valley, China.

7,000 BC
Coldstream Burial Stone, Western Cape Province, South Africa.

7,000 BC
Fish God of Lepenski Vir. Sandstone carving of a man-god figure, found in a Danubian Settlement.

5,500-4,800 BC
Development of pottery in Neolithic India.

5,500-4700 BC
Vidovdanka, a terracotta figure from Vinca-Belo Brdo, Serbia.

5,000-3,500 BC
Chalcolithic pottery is made in Persia, featuring ceramic pots decorated with human, bird, plant or animal motifs.

5,000 BC
Samarra and Halaf plates from Iraq and Syria, decorated with figurative or abstract patterns.

5,000 BC
The Thinker of Cernavoda. Iconic figure sculpture created during the Hamangia culture in Romania.

5,000 BC
Chinese lacquerware is developed.

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5,000 BC
Sydney Rock engravings. Rock carvings of people and animals carved into sandstone, in NSW, Australia.

5,000 BC
Evora megaliths, Portugual.

4,500 BC
Carnac Stones, Brittany, France.

4,450 BC
Breton Cairn of Barnenez.

4,200-4,000 BC
Gavrinis Passage Tomb, Brittany. Decorated with spirals, mazes, and anthropomorphic motifs.

4,000 BC
Ecuadorians of the Valdivia culture create the first representational images in the Americas at archaeological sites like Real Alto and Loma Alta.

4,000 BC
Potters wheel invented in Sumeria.

4,000 BC
Dabous Giraffe engravings. Tuareg Culture petroglyphs of elephants, antelopes, crocodiles and cattle, from Agadez, Niger.

4,000 BC
Elands Bay Cave. Famous for its hand stencils, in the Western Cape, South Africa.

4,000-3,000 BC
Silk production begins in China.

3,600 BC
Ggantija Temple complex, Gozo. A fertility cult centre.

3,500 BC
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.

3,500 BC
Jade carving begins in China.

3,300 BC
Priest-King of Mesopotamia. Limestone statuette from Iraq.

3,300 BC
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.

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3,200 BC
Newgrange Passage Tomb. Extensive necropolis noted for its spiral and rhombus-shaped decoration, as well as concentric circles, herring bone patterns and zig-zags.

3,200 BC
Knowth Passage Tomb. Estimated to comprise one quarter of all the megalithic art produced in Europe.

3,200 BC
More complex copper-and-tin bronze casting techniques invented during the Indus Valley Civilization of India.

3,100 BC
First wheeled transport developed in Sumeria. Egyptians paint murals on the walls of tombs, to help the occupants cope in the next world.

3,100-2,400 BC
Stonehenge Stone Circle. The world famous assemblage of large upright stones (menhirs).

3,000 BC
Niola Doa (Beautiful Ladies). Monumental engravings of female figures on the Ennedi Plateau, Chad.

3,000 BC
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.

2,800 BC
Emergence of Beaker culture in Europe (named for its distinctive drinking vessels.

2,700 BC
Egyptians create first painted relief sculptures.

2,650-2,550 BC
Ram in a Thicket. Famous example of Sumerian art from ancient Iraq.

2,650-1,800 BC
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.

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2,500 BC
- Maikop Gold Bull is cast.
- Start of Aegean Art.
- Dancing Girl of Mohenjo-Daro.
- Xia Dynasty culture, China.

2,000-1,500 BC
Minoan Palaces built and rebuilt on Crete.

1,780 BC
The written Code of Hammurabi (laws) is displayed across Babylonia.

1,750 BC
First example of outstanding Chinese art - the Shang Dynasty bronzes, as well as the earliest Calligraphy.

1,700 BC
Linear A script is invented by Minoans. Start of Hittite and Assyrian art.

1,600 BC
Mycenaean civilisation flourishes on Greek mainland. Glass making mastered in Mesopotamia.

1,530-1,500 BC
Temple of Amon-Ra at Karnak built to honour the god Amon at Thebes.

1,500 BC
Iron Age Art begins in Europe.

1,450 BC
Myceneans invent new form of writing based on Minoan Linear B script.

1,425 BC
Myceneans (Greek mainland) overcome Minoans on Crete.

1,390 BC
Amenhotep III builds the Temple of Amon at Luxor.

1,250 BC
Rameses II constructs the Colossus at Memphis, and adds the Hypostyle Hall to the Karnak temple in Luxor.

1,200 BC
Decline of Mycenean civilization. Pre-Columbian art starts in mesoamerica and South America.

1,200-1,000 BC
Sanxingdui Bronzes - giant bronze sculptures of human faces & masks - created in Sichuan, China.

1,164 BC
Fall of Troy in Asia Minor.

1,100 BC
Kingdom of Israel is founded.

1,050 BC
Geometric style of Greek Pottery appears.

1,000 BC
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.

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Stone Age Culture
Factsheet & Glossary