Art Historical Background
As with all Prehistoric images, there isn’t much information on historical context of the people who created these pieces or their functions within these societies. Sure there are plenty of theories including magic and animal sacrifices but I prefer to focus on facts (with some healthy speculation of course) that can be figured out from the artifacts.
For starters, this piece quite clearly depicts an animal. From there we can at least decide that animals are in some way important to these people. Now here is where we can pull in some historical context, by using carbon-dating methods we know the estimated time period for the creation of the Apollo 11 stones: c. 25,500-25,300 BCE. Radiocarbon dating gave us the date that this shard broke off from the rock face, not when they were painted – so it is possible they are even older than the dates ascribed to them!
Read more: The Natural World in Prehistory
Even with a wide margin of error, this firmly sets us during the Paleolithic Period, a time of hunters-and-gathers. It is quite understandable for a people who rely on hunting animals to revere them in some way. Now that may be magical or spiritual or it may simply be informational – we do not know that much.
These stones are significant to the study of art history for a couple of reasons:
- They represent some of the oldest art known in the world
- They demonstrate an important aspect of culture from Prehistoric hunter-and-gatherers
Fun Fact: They are called the Apollo 11 stones because one of the archaeologist named the cave “Apollo 11” upon hearing on his radio of NASA’s successful space mission to the moon.
- Gardner’s Art through the Ages: A Global History, 15th edition, pgs. 16-17
- The Metropolitan Museum, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: Apollo 11 (ca. 25,500–23,500 B.C.) and Wonderwerk (ca. 8000 B.C.) Cave Stones
- Khan Academy: Apollo 11 Stones
- Taylorsville Art: Apollo 11 Stones
- The World’s Great Archaeological Treasures, pg. 12
- Introduction to the History of Art: Prehistoric Rock Art in Africa: the Apollo 11 Cave painted slabs (Namibia)
- Bradshaw Foundation: Where is the Oldest Rock Art?
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, What does it mean to be human?: Apollo 11 Plaque
- Art History & the Art of History: Art Before History Part 1
- Valerie Parks, AP Art History: Global Prehistory
- Kuntz AP Art History: Global Prehistory