Art in the Upper Paleolithic Era: Examples & Style


Upper Paleolithic artwork is one of the ancient prehistoric art forms. “Palaeolithic cave paintings” were configured with hand stencils and unique geometric patterns and these amazing forms were used almost 40,000 years ago. A cultural eruption comparable to the Renaissance occurred in the Upper Paleolithic. The Upper Paleolithic, also known as the Late Stone Age, is when many human customs that are fundamental to social interaction first appeared. All subsequent creative endeavours have their roots in Palaeolithic art.

What is Palaeolithic art culture?

The semblance of metaphorical palaeolithic drawings symbolised the inception of socialisation and modernization in Paleolithic culture. It is one of the conspicuous features that segregates the “Upper Paleolithic period from the Middle Paleolithic period”. The revelation of palaeolithic paintings in different caves of Indonesia that are equivalent to some of the European art specimens.This has proved that comparable creative and cultural art practices subsisted almost 40,000 years ago in western and eastern Eurasia.

Type of Artwork associated with Upper Palaeolithic Cultures

The artwork in the palaeolithic era was very practical and mainly concentrated on daily activities of the people and the creation of pragmatic objects. The fabrication of the artistic pieces represented some abstract concepts that included hunting or a family that exhibited a meticulous development in human evolution. The “Artwork from the Upper Paleolithic” can be sorted out into two primary groups or styles-”Geometric and Naturalistic”.Geometric art mostly used “stripes, lines, and other basic geometric shapes” to accessorise some daily goods like tools or jewellery, and on the other side naturalistic art was concentrated on natural events like the weather conditions, and related factors. These artistic objects can be classified as:

  • Figurative − Art represents their daily life, things or any living figures like different animals or humans.

  • Non-figurative − Art mainly concentrated on more abstract concepts, mostly a family or hunting. Non-figurative art was a rare art form in the upper palaeolithic era .

Example of Palaeolithic age Art

The inquisitiveness of the Palaeolithic began in 1880 when “Don Marcelin de Sautuola” first published a dodger containing the illustrations of beautiful cave art objects from the “Altamira caves of Spain” that were from the upper palaeolithic era.The different artwork of Palaeolithic times can be studied under two heads.

Home Art

  • The Home art mostly included engravings on mobile objects,"figures and statues, jewellery and ornaments engraved on bone, horn, ivory", etc. and several mesmerising looking things whose proper use and application is still not known yet.

  • On the other hand the Cave art included engravings and paintings on "rocks and rock shelters and caves".

  • The workmanship of both home art and cave art was so fine and praiseworthy that it reflected craftsmanship of the humans of that time.

Cave Art

  • Cave art was executed normally on cave walls and shelters and the art form remains confined to places like France, Spain and Italy.

  • In some of the cave paintings many animals were represented singly or in groups with different sizes.The most commonly occurring animals included were "bison, wild cow, woody mammoth, reindeer and wild horse". Sculpturing and paintings of fish, bird and man occurred very rarely.One of such relics of the upper palaeolithic exist at "Font de Gaume in France". The cave site portrays a series of picture sculptures of “mammoths, bison, reindeers, woolly rhinoceros and horses” which are impregnated in polychrome with a prominent tinge of black, red and brown.

Barcelona, Spain - Dec 27th, 2019: Cave man painting horse in Paleolithic cave. Reconstruction of prehistoric life and art. Catalan Museum of Archaeology, Barcelona, Spain

Main characteristics of Palaeolithic Art

  • A typical economy that was predominant common in Palaeolithic cultures was called hunter-gatherer economy.

  • People of that era hunted wild animals for sustenance and gathered food, wood, and resources for making weapons etc.

  • The development of people’s daily needs manifested the evolutionary advancement of Human culture.

  • Their niches became exotic, intricate and homely with the progressive advancement of the Paleolithic age.

  • The art depicted different survival strategies of that era like protection from predators and competitors, as well as from extreme weather patterns.

  • The areas where they mostly lived were small lakes, and streams with adjacent low hilltops. But most of their sites have been damaged due to adverse climatic effects.

  • There were different other forms of their livelihood apart from caves and they exhibited their artwork in places like open air with no formal construction. Shelters within caves are some of the examples, along with shelters made of ,straw, wood, and rock.

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 26, 2021. Vintage stamp printed in France shows the Cave of Niaux from the Upper Palaeolithic, located in the Niaux commune, south-western France


Upper Paleolithic artwork is one of the ancient prehistoric art forms and existed for more than 2 million years.The artwork that existed in the palaeolithic era was very efficient and mainly concentrated on daily activities of the people and the creation of pragmatic objects.The artwork were based on two concepts-Geometrical and naturalistic art forms.The Humans of that era were also very sensitive as they stoned the foundation of the art culture thereby depicting their own strategies of survival.


Q1. Is the Palaeolithic age considered the old stone age?

Ans. The Paleolithic era also known as the Old Stone Age period existed for about two and one-half and three million years, according to some mathematical calculations executed by a group of scientists.According to ancient history Paleolithic Art refers to the Late Upper Paleolithic period. And the era began around 40,000 years ago and lasted through the “Pleistocene ice age”, which ended about “8,000 BCE.

Q2. What did the World look like during the upper palaeolithic era?

Ans. In the upper palaeolithic era ice was the predominating factor in its geographical landscape and the ocean shoreline varies from the present scenario.Shallow water levels and connecting land bridges which do not exist any more allowed humans to migrate to countries like “America and Australia”. The ice gave a cooling sensation to the climate worldwide and debarred from migrating to the north. Humans at that era were strictly hunter-gatherers, as they regularly moved in search of food.

Q3. What was the nature of the palaeolithic man?

Ans. The palaeolithic Humans knew about the importance of our existence,and comfortable survival from immediate niches to the practical convenience of tools. They also stoned the foundations of decorative art culture

Updated on: 28-Feb-2023


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