The Paleolithic period and the Neolithic period very much coincide with each other, but they also have their differences as well. The Greek root paleo stands for the word old, neo stands for the word new, and lithos stands for the word stone (Kleiner 2015, p. 15). Therefore, Paleolithic means the Old Stone Age and Neolithic means the New Stone Age. People in the Paleolithic period focused on hunting and gathering and did not stay in one place for too long. People in the Neolithic period transitioned into staying in one place and building up a community by farming and herding livestock.
When it comes to art, the Paleolithic period consisted of cave paintings, but also contained sculptures and figurines as well. The main focal point of the Paleolithic period however was animals. Humans were sometimes depicted in this period as well, for example in cave paintings, people were drawn out as stick figures, therefore most of the details were aimed towards the animals. Since people in the Paleolithic era moved around a lot, many cave paintings have various artists’ work from different time periods.
One piece of artwork in particular that is from the Paleolithic era is the Venus of Willendorf, or the Nude Woman. This figurine is from Willendorf, Austria and is from around 28,000 to 25,000 BCE. This piece of art was made of limestone and stood about 4 and ¼ inches high. This figurine represents another characteristic of the Paleolithic era and that is its depiction of women. Back in the time of this period, women were represented by being able to bear children, in order for the human species to survive (Kleiner 2015, p. 18). Therefore, women in any of form of art in this period, were depicted with very wide hips, hips that are able to endure the weight of giving birth to a child. So, the Venus of Willendorf in particular has very exaggerated features that shows the importance of women with wide hips in order to survive.
Another piece of art during the Paleolithic period, that focuses on animals in particular, is the relief carving of Two bison, in the cave at Le Tuc d’Audoubert, France. This relief carving was made around 15,000 to 10,000 BCE. It was made of clay and since there are two, the right bison is about 2 feet and 7/8 inches long. With this relief carving in particular, this artist made these bison out of clay against this uneven rock, rather than cutting into stone or cave walls. It was found that the sculptor used his hands to shape the bison and its details, while also using a stone spatula-like tool to make the bison nice and smooth. (Kleiner 2015, p. 19). What is also visible in the image of the two bison, is cracks within them. My first thought that these cracks formed over a long period of time, since they were made so long ago, but it was actually discovered that the cracks most likely formed only after a few days after the relief carving’s completion.
Cave paintings were very prevalent in the Paleolithic period, and one of the most famous painted caves is found in Lascaux, France. This massive cave consists of all various types of animal paintings. One in particular found in Lascaux is the cave painting of a rhinoceros, wounded man, and disemboweled bison. This painting dates back between 16,000 to 14,000 BCE. The bison is about 3 feet and 4 and ½ inches long. Since this illustration is a little hard to depict the meaning, many believe this depicts a hunting scene of two animals, a rhinoceros and a bison, and a man, possibly with a bird mask on. If this so happens to be a hunting scene, it is said that this would be the earliest depiction of a narrative in art ever discovered (Kleiner 2015, p. 22). Also, as I stated above, it is important to point out that the man is drawn out in stick figure fashion by the artist, not much detail put into the human compared to the animals.
The Neolithic period on the other hand, consisted of wall paintings, mainly focusing on the depiction of human beings rather than animals. This is when humans started forming communities and civilizations. Because people were not moving around as much, their art consisted more of wall paintings, statues, and megalithic monuments.
One wall painting in particular during this era was the mural of a deer hunt, from level III in Çatal Höyük, Turkey. It was from 5750 BCE. What makes this painting different from the wall paintings in the Paleolithic period, is the depiction of the humans. Instead of having one human, this wall painting consists of several people all in a group, performing a variety of poses. Also, this wall painting depicts a narrative, which was very rare to see in the Paleolithic period. Even though the artist of this wall painting used basic shapes, they still provided details such as the bows and arrows the humans are using (Kleiner 2015, p. 26). Even though the people are not very detailed, it is still very clear what the artist is trying to portray, unlike the rhinoceros and bison hunt scene from the Paleolithic period, which was very unclear.
Another piece of art from the Neolithic period is the sculpture of the human figure. This sculpture was from Ain Ghazal around 6750 to 6250 BCE. It was made of plaster and painted and inlaid with bitumen. It stands about 3 feet and 5 and 3/8 inches high. The proportions of this statue are very odd. The neck is very long compared to the size of the rest of the body, and the arms are very short in contrast. It is also difficult to determine what gender this figure is supposed to represent. This statue is one of the earliest large-scale sculptures that are known from this time period (Kleiner 2015, p. 25). This sculpture is much larger than Paleolithic sculptures, such as the Venus of Willendorf that only stood about 4 inches high.
Megalithic monuments were also a very large part of the Neolithic period. One in particular is the very popular Stonehenge. Stonehenge is found in Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England. It was made around 2550 to 1600 BCE. In diameter, the circle is about 97 feet in diameter and the trilithons are about 24 feet high. Some of the megaliths even weigh up to 50 tons. Stonehenge was made out of various types of stone, such as rough-cut sarsen, which is a form of sandstone, and smaller bluestones, which were various types of volcanic rocks (Kleiner 2015, p. 28). Because of its massive size, it is believed that Stonehenge was built in the duration of hundreds of years. Stonehenge is also believed to have had many different purposes. It is thought to have started as a funeral site where the Neolithic people cremated the dead, and then eventually functioned as a solar calendar and an astronomical observatory. Another theory is that at one point it functioned as a place to heal the sick and wounded, gathering people from all over. Whatever Stonehenge purpose was, this megalithic monument showed the development of the Neolithic people, and how fast they grew in an artistic standpoint from starting in the Paleolithic period.
In conclusion, without the Paleolithic era, the Neolithic era would not have been what is was. The people back then started as hunters and gathers, and eventually developed into civilized people, farming and herding livestock, along with building communities for themselves. Because of this growth, they transitioned from cave paintings, and little figurines and sculptures, to wall paintings, much larger sculptures, and megalithic monuments that are still present to this day.