How Cave Paintings Were Made: Interesting Facts

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Do you love art? Do you know the history of art and how long it took to get from the dawn of human creativity to the type of art we have today? You might know that many thousands of years ago, cavemen produced art of their own. But not everyone truly knows the significance of this early form of expression. People believe that cavemen used cave art to communicate their feelings to their companions. Though most of their art is quite primitive, and doesn’t have the complexities and depth of modern art today, it is still fascinating to see how they captured and perceived the world around them. Cave paintings, also called parietal art, is one of the few ways we get a true glimpse into our past.

The materials cavemen used for paintings were of course quite limited. They relied on the natural elements of the environment around them, such as mud, dirt or colorful rocks. They also used animal blood, saliva, and animal fat as paint.

Cavemen produced these paintings on both soft walls and hard surfaces, sometimes using tools made of flint.

How Old Are These Cave Paintings?

When we think of cave paintings, we probably think of art that is a million years old. But, in reality, the artwork of the earliest Neanderthals dates to little more than 64,000 years ago. One of these most ancient artworks, discovered in Spain featured red horizontal and vertical lines. It is not something that cavemen did to record their history or culture, but rather a symbol or a sign which they used to communicate.

The paintings which came after them were a tad more advanced. They included depictions of humans, beasts, sculptures, and in some cases materials made for shamanistic purposes.

Learn more about the oldest cave paintings in the world here.

The famous Cueva de las Manos cave painting from Santa Cruz in Argentina.
Cueva de Los Manos from Santa Cruz, Argentina.

There are also some paintings that are a clear indication that they were used for decoration in prehistoric times. They have finely grained distribution pigments. It looks like they used objects as brushes to decorate their walls.

Note that historians don’t call these lines or decorations the first known instance of artwork. They think it doesn’t qualify as art, and is instead more of a way of communication. The first actual painting has outlines of human hands. It is created in Indonesia, and one can associate it with spray-painted cave graffiti.

How To Study Cave Paintings

Cave paintings aren’t like today’s paintings. Their intention and purpose were totally different. For that reason, in order to perceive them, you must study them in a different manner. For instance, you need to ask four questions to comprehend their artistic interpretation.

  • What does it look like?
  • What do you think it’s painted on?
  • How old is it?
  • What is the purpose? Why does it exist?

Asking these questions will help you figure out why the cave painting is special. It will also become easier for you to talk about the events that happened at that time. By determining how old it is, you may be able to determine what kind of events were taking place around them, by following along in history. By learning what materials were used, you may better understand how they used the environment near the location of the art. You’ll be surprised at some of what you discover!

Why Are Cave Paintings So Important?

If you’re not very interested in history, you may be wondering what the purpose is of these paintings. Besides looking at them for creative influence, cave paintings are extremely important for researchers because they reveal how our primitive ancestors perceived the world. They also provide us the evidence of their activities which is almost impossible to get through books or other means, simply because those did not exist.

It is not only about their way of life, paintings shed light on their beliefs and ideas also.

For instance, the Lascaux cave painting in southeast France shows the early artistic work of humans, exceptional evidence of the emergence of the human consciousness. Similarly, when we see some geometric engraving inside the cave, we comprehend that it indicates a cognitive capacity that humans had at that time.

A close up of a cave painting on the walls of Lascaux Cave, in southeast France.
Lauscaux Cave, southeast France.

Even the geometric engraving or any kind of symbolic art inside the cave is thousands of years old. It shows our consciousness, intelligence, and art education aren’t new.

Our ancestors used their emotions and used their judgments rather well like us.

Implications of Cave Paintings

There is another interesting view about cave paintings in the eyes of historians. Some historians believe it is not good to interpret their meanings or try to associate them with today’s humans. Because there is a high possibility the cavemen used these paintings as signs and symbols to communicate with other groups. In a way, it was a form of graphic communication. 

For that reason, comparing their intelligence with today’s modern human beings isn’t logical.

Cavemen were probably excellent at painting for their time, but not so proficient in other parts of life as we know it, especially before the written word. As a result, it seems that they used to communicate their everyday life in art form before written words.

There is another view that rejects all these assertions. Some experts suggest the cave paintings aren’t as ancient as we think. There is a possibility people in recent ages used them to record their history. They were probably not as old as we think. However, most researchers don’t agree with this idea. They feel more convinced that cavemen used these paintings to warn people who came later. So, they are directly from the cavemen era.

Further Reading

If cave art and the history attached to it interests you, check out ‘Cave Art by Bruno David’.

Cave Art (World of Art) by Bruno David

David tells the story of this mysterious world of decorated caves, from the oldest known painting tools to the magnificent murals of the European Ice Age. Showcasing the most astounding discoveries made in more than 150 years of archaeological exploration, Cave Art explores the creative achievements of our remotest ancestors and what they tell us about the human past.

This is one of the most fascinating books on cave art history. Bruno David highlights some of humanity’s earliest artistic endeavors and reveals how the cavemen used sacred symbols and secret knowledge on the walls of the cave. The best thing is this book is a perfect balance of scholarly detail and analysis. The author also used entertaining narratives which shed light on the unsettled questions and influence your views with new, factual perceptions.

Some experts call cave paintings the dawn of human creativity. They believe it’s the first time in which people started using their minds in creative ways, especially considering the lack of other comparable ways early civilizations expressed themselves. 

For example, some cave paintings indicate that early humans didn’t want to draw a human face as they believed it might take the soul.

Therefore, they used some animal image with a human body or a bird’s face to represent a dead man. They also started documenting their hunting expeditions in different ways.

Some Ennedi cave paintings found in Chad are shown, depicting mostly animals and human beings among them.
Ennedi cave paintings in Chad.


No matter which perception you believe, it is always interesting to explore cave art. Even if it is not thousands of years old, it is still considered to have symbolic or religious importance.

If you are interested in exploring cave painting, visit France and Spain. 

These two places are packed with ancient cave art. The art discovered in these regions is the work of homo sapiens. Apart from that, there are some other interesting cave painting sites in England, Portugal, Romania, and Russia. You can also visit them for unique Paleolithic art. 

If you’re looking for specific sites to explore cave paintings and other art, check out our top 7 list here.

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