01. Global Prehistory, Art & Humanities, Teaching

AP Art History: Materials, Processes, & Techniques in Prehistoric Art

AP Art History: Materials, Processes, & Techniques in Prehistoric Art
*Note: The enduring “Enduring understanding,” “Learning Objective,” & “Essential Knowledge” language comes from the 2019 AP Art History Curriculum and Exam Guide.

Enduring Understanding: Art and art making takes many different forms both within and across cultures, and the materials, processes, and techniques employed may also vary by location and culture with wide-ranging influence on the art that is generated.

Learning Objective: Explain how materials, processes, and techniques affect art and art making.

Essential Knowledge: The first instances of important artistic media, approaches, and values occurred on different continents, with Africa and Asia preceding and influencing other areas as the human population spread. People established many artistic media, from the first fired ceramics to painting and incised graphic designs (primarily on rock surfaces), sculpture (notably female and animal figurines), and architecture (stone megalithic installations).

Prehistoric ceramics in the 250:

Prehistoric painting/incised graphic designs on rock surfaces in the 250:

Prehistoric sculpture of female and animal figurines in the 250:

Prehistoric stone megalithic installations in the 250:

Essential Knowledge: Beginning approximately 77,000 years ago, the first “art” was created in the form of rock paintings and carved natural materials, such as ocher. Geometric patterns and representations of life-forms, usually human and animal, were typical two-dimensional creations. Three Dimensional forms were sculpted, and monuments, large scale objects, and environments were assembled and/or constructed.

Prehistoric two-dimensional creations:

Prehistoric three-dimensional forms:

Essential Knowledge: Humans established Paleolithic communities in West, Central, South, Southeast, and East Asia between 70,000 and 40,000 BCE. Paleolithic and Neolithic cave paintings featuring animal imagery are found across Asia, including in the mountains of Central Asia and Iran and in rock shelters throughout central India. In prehistoric China, ritual objects were created in jade, beginning a 5,000-year tradition of working with the precious medium. Ritual, tomb, and memorializing arts are found across Neolithic Asia, including impressive funerary steles from Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Asia’s greatest contribution to early world art is in ceramic technology, with some of the earliest pieces (dating to 10,500 bce) produced by the Jomon culture in Japan. Even earlier pottery continues to be found, particularly in China. Ceramics were also produced in Iran beginning in the eighth millennium BCE, and refined vessel forms arose from the adoption of the potter’s wheel in the fourth millennium BCE.

Essential Knowledge: In the Pacific region, migrations from Asia approximately 45,000 years ago were possible because of lowered sea levels and the existence of land bridges. The earliest created objects have been dated to about 8,000 years ago. The Lapita peoples, who moved eastward from Melanesia to Polynesia beginning about 4,000 years ago, created pottery with incised geometric designs that appear across the region in multiple media today.

Essential Knowledge: Paleolithic and Neolithic Europe’s artistic statements were made in small human figural sculptures (central Europe), cave paintings (France and Spain), and outdoor, monumental stone assemblages (British Isles). These provide glimpses into the beginnings of ritual life (15,000 BCE) as people tried to influence and integrate with the natural cycles of the cosmos and promote both human and animal fertility. These works establish the dynamic interplay of naturalism and abstraction found throughout art’s history.

Essential Knowledge: On the American continent, from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego, indigenous peoples who had recently migrated from Asia (before 10,000 bce) first made sculptures from animal bone and later from clay, with animals and sacred humans as dominant subject matter. Similar to European expressions, ancient American art adapts animal images to the natural contours of the chosen materials and features fecund females. The fact that female figurines may also display unusual or supernatural characteristics suggests the importance of shamanic religion brought from Asia very early in human history.

Prehistoric art from the Americas:

Suggested Works: 


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