In the previous article I wrote about the Paleolithic Era, we got introduced to the origins of art and started to understand more about why humans created art, as well as how we perceive it nowadays.
Today we’re going to explore the Mesolithic Era.
The Mesolithic Era, or the Middle Stone Age, is the period situated between the Upper Paleolithic and the Neolithic. The start and the end of this period varies by geographical region. It dated approximately from the 10,000 BC to 4,000 BC. It consists of greater development and diversity compared to the Paleolithic culture. Archaeologists discovered new, improved chipped stone tools, otherwise known as microliths, and polished stones.
Temperatures slowly increased in the beginning of 13,000 BC and as a result, the Scandianvian Ice Sheet began to retreat northward, around 8,300 BC. The Ice Age came to an end and spectacular forests made an appearance. The endlessly white plains were replaced with green landscapes and the melted glaciers left canyons and gorges behind.
The period between then and the origins of agriculture (7,000 BC - 4,000 BC) constituted a major change environmentally and culturally as a new era was born, the Holocene era. The same era we live in today.
Thanks to the improved tools and better understanding of their environment, hunting became more efficient for humans, as well as the earliest forms of agriculture and even architecture.
In Europe, one of the most impressive cultures of the time was the Maglemosian. The name originated from the Maglemose bog site in Denmark. Incipient forms of architecture dating from 6,000 BC, specifically traces of huts with bark-covered floors have been discovered. Other discoveries, such as arrow shafts or harpoons, flint axes, fish hooks, fish nets, wood processing tools and larger tools, such as club heads have been made. Archaeologists even found paddles and a dugout canoe. All these items have survived thanks to the bog’s favourable preserving qualities.
Bone harpoons, Maglemose Site, Denmark
Fish Hooks, Maglemose Site, Denmark
However, in spite of the thriving circumstances, food was not always available. Therefore, the mesolithic humans were often migrating in search of better living conditions, finding shelter in caves and eventually establishing the first permanent settlements.
Same as in the Paleolithic era, humans continued to practice cave painting and sculpting that give us a deeper look into their ways of living. Unfortunately, it is hard to find many artistic creations, as art has faced a decline during the time.
Given the climate change, there was no need for the early man to resort to isolation and perform activities only inside caves anymore. Also, the need for art was reduced as domestic crafts became more important.
As a result of the warming temperature, cave art was practiced less, while rock art took to the open air. The “canvas” of choice was usually represented by vertical cliffs, accompanied by overhangs or outcroppings, which played a major role in protecting the paintings from the elements.
An example of such artworks are the numerous sites in Spain. The paintings often displayed figures of humans and animals. Compared to the Paleolithic cave paintings, the Mesolithic artworks seem more advanced, the human figure is frequently the main subject and is most commonly represented in hunting scenes. But there are also scenes of dancing, battles and agricultural activities.
One astonishing discovery is portrayed by “The Dance “, found in El Cogul at Roca dels Moros site in Catalonia, estimated to be 7,000 years old.
The Dance of Cogul, Cova Dels Moros, Catalonia
The scene depicts nine women dancing around a male figure. In the same picture, several animals are illustrated, along with a dead deer, impaled with an arrow.
In Valencia, another famous discovery was made; a painting of a human collecting honey.
The man of Bicorp, Cuevas de la Araña en Bicorp, Valencia, Spain.
Besides the rock paintings, sculptures, engravings and a number of pendants have been found. As well as the earliest form of pottery and architecture.
The Elk's Head of Huittinen is a sculpture of an elk or moose head measuring about 10 centimeters, sculpted into soapstone. It was discovered in 1903 in Finland and is dated to be between 9,000 BC and 8,000 BC. The figurine has a hole for mounting a rod, so it is believed that it was used as a sceptre in a ritual context.
The Elk's Head of Huittinen, Finland
At Star Carr, England, an engraved shale pendant has been found. It displays an impressive network of incisions and a hole on the upper angle of the object, which suggests it was worn, perhaps, as a necklace. Researchers may believe the engravings may represent a map, a tree, a leaf, or tally marks.
The engravings are similar to the ones found on amber pendants in Denmark, dating from the same period (11,000BC), indicating migration, which was possible by land back then. However, these possibilities are still being researched.
Engraved shale pendant 31 x 35 x 3 mm, Star Carr, England
Image credit: Milner, N. et al. / Internet Archaeology, doi: 10.11141/ia.40.8
Göbekli Tepe - The earliest megalithic construction discovered is located near the city of Şanlıurfa in Southeastern Anatolia, Turkey. Dating since ca. 9,000 BC, the site is believed to have been used in connection with rituals. The monuments depict carved representations of human figures, wild animals such as bulls, lions, wild boars, foxes, gazelles, snakes, insects and birds, especially vultures. The limestone T-Shaped pillars may symbolise the head of a godly or human figure.
Göbekli Tepe, Turkey
The earliest pottery yet known in the world was discovered in Xianrendong cave in China. It is estimated to date between 20,000 BC and 10,000 BC, well before the start of agricultural practice. The pottery container has been carefully reconstructed and it’s scorch marks suggest it might have been used for cooking.
Pottery Container, Xianrendong Cave,China
Compared to the Paleolithic and the following Neolithic Era, it’s unfortunate to say rather less art survived from the Mesolithic Period. Nevertheless, it represents an incredible transition.
Early mankind was preoccupied with adapting, developing new interests and inventing more tools destined to help them achieve more efficiency in agriculture, hunting, fishing and animal husbandry. All leading to the earliest civilizations and what we are today.
Thank you so much for reading!
Be sure to join me when I explore the Neolithic Era, the next big step in history.
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