Prehistoric Cave Paintings (Plus a How to for Kids)

Archaeosoup Production’s Facebook page recently shared this image. (If you haven’t checked out the page, I suggest you click here).

Banksy Painting (Photo courtesy of Flickr.com, Creative Commons)

Banksy Painting (Photo courtesy of Flickr.com, Creative Commons)

I love this painting and the image inspired me to write a post about cave paintings.  Cave painting is a form of rock art which archaeologists study.  Some of my favorite examples of prehistoric art are the Lascaux cave paintings, found in southwest France.  This cave site is home to multiple sections, each with paintings of animals, humans, and geometric shapes.  The images are believed to be for ritual purposes and were painted with mineral pigments.

Example of a Lascaux cave painting (Photo courtesy of Flickr.com, Creative Commons).

Example of a Lascaux cave painting (Photo courtesy of Flickr.com, Creative Commons).

I decided to do an art project with my nieces to teach them about prehistoric art.  We made our own “cave paintings” using paper bags for the cave and natural elements for the paint.  This was a great experimental project for the kids and they enjoyed getting messy.

People of the past often used a mixture of ochre and water for their colors.  Since ochre is not found in our environment we combined other organic materials such as berries, flowers, grass, charcoal, and dirt.

Materials used (berries, flowers, grass, charcoal, dirt, rocks, sticks)

Materials used (berries, flowers, grass, charcoal, dirt, rocks, sticks)

I had the girls grind the natural elements with stone and added water to the mix to bind it together.  My sister and I helped with this step as we realized this was not an easy process.  This ended up being a good example for how cave paintings from the past had talented and skilled artists.

Grinding the elements with a stone

Grinding the elements with a stone

Mixing the natural pigments and water with a stick to make paint

Mixing the natural pigments and water with a stick to make paint

We attempted to use spray bottles to create hand stencils (commonly discovered on rock art – possibly a form of an artist’s signature – OR- possibly a form of spiritual expression).  The charcoal was not fine enough and clogged the sprayer.  We then chose other methods which were often utilized when creating prehistoric art, applying the paint with hands and brushing the pigment on with sticks.

Creating hand prints

Creating hand prints

More hand prints

More hand prints

Using a stick to brush on the paint

Using a stick to brush on the paint

Impromptu method to brush on the paint

Impromptu method to brush on the paint

This art project was a lot of fun!  It was both educational and exciting.  Like I said, it was an experimental activity.  If you decide to try out this project remember that any errors made can be a teaching opportunity.  Have fun!

Finished product - our own cave painting!

Finished product – our own cave painting!

What’s your favorite prehistoric cave painting?

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18 thoughts on “Prehistoric Cave Paintings (Plus a How to for Kids)

  1. Fun post. I love the Lascaux cave art as well. Have you seen the cave paintings of the Chumash Indians in California? If not you can check it out online. My husband was the archaeologist for a company in Santa Barbara helping to preserve much of the cave art in the area. Also you can look at a book called images in stone by David Muench.

  2. oh how I adore the work of Banksy..it speaks such volumes.

    This looks like such a fun project, I love the idea of using the bags to get the feel of a cave wall. (I think I might enjoy this one as much as my little sidekicks haha)

  3. Fun post! I have always adored the cave paintings. Even played with cave painting on canvas myself and made some “proto-Isis” paintings. And thank you for following my blog.

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