01. Global Prehistory, Art & Humanities

#1. Apollo 11 stones. Namibia. c. 25,500–25,300 BCE. Charcoal on stone.

#1. Apollo 11 stones. Namibia. c. 25,500–25,300 BCE. Charcoal on stone.

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:

  1. They represent some of the oldest art known in the world
  2. 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.



Next time: #2. Great Hall of the Bulls. Lascaux, France. Paleolithic Europe. 15,000-13,000 BCE. Rock painting


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