25 Thousand Year Old Faces

Finding ancient art can be difficult, and depictions of the human face are even more rare, but each discovery leads to a better understanding of our shared history. This drawing, found in Vilhonneur grotto in France, shows that stylization (at 25, 000 years old) was an early development. Unfortunately though, not all of discoveries are treated well…

Surely these four lines (eyes, nose and mouth) are something Picasso would approve.
Surely these four lines (eyes, nose and mouth) are something Picasso would approve.


Around the same period as the artist in Vilhonneur grotto, someone in Brassempouy, France carved a human face. Known as the Venus of Brassempouy, it is possibly the oldest known attempt at a realistic depiction of the human face. Due to overzealous amateur archaeologists in 1892, a full understanding of the cavern may never be realized.

They used farming equipment to dig up the cave. Apparently, they were also misinformed that whatever they found they could keep. Archaeologist Edouard Piette had this to say about the group and their leaders:

They took everything, both fauna and worked objects. They knew full well, but seemed not to
care, that the next day their colleagues who had come from afar to visit the site, would be
deprived of the means to appreciate it. They also knew that what they had taken belonged
to others but committed the theft without batting an eye. Monsieur Trutat is guilty of
theft and Monsieur Dubalen of complicity and abuse of trust. Here are two rascals worthy
of punishment. These wretches prevented the association from understanding the nature
of the site and its contents.

Unfortunately, the destruction of prehistoric artwork is a problem that has not faded away. This is certainly the case in the Burrup Peninsula of Australia.

A highly stylized face in Burrup   Photo by Ken Mulvaney
A highly stylized face in Burrup  Photo by Ken Mulvaney 

The Burrup Peninsula, known also as Murujuga, is a site with some of the oldest surviving petroglyphs on Earth, but it is slowly being lost. Artworks 30-40 thousand years old are being ravaged to make way for things like iron ore mines. As if to rub salt in the wound, tens of thousands of petroglyphs have been crushed and used as road fill. An Australian radio show discussed the subject, all guests in dismay over the lack of action being taken. And I have to agree.

An iron ore mine in the archipelago
An iron ore mine in the archipelago

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *