Cave Paintings

The Stone Age fascinates me because it accounts for 97% of human history, but it is so unknowable. The mists of time have closed around it and hidden it from our view. We do find artifacts that show us technology from the time but this data is pretty limited and when it comes to knowing about Stone Age cultures, philosophies, and worldviews there are hardly any clues. However, in a few places, the shroud of mist does retreat ever so slightly and allow us a glimpse at Stone Age culture. Places like Göbekli Tepe, Stonehenge, Newgrange, stir up feelings of awe and mystery. However, to me, the most intriguing and mysterious relics Paleolithic cultures left behind are the cave paintings.

Since I am so intrigued by these painings I researched how the paint was made and decided to try painting one myself.

The first step was to make the pigment, which can be done by using a hammer and anvil to crush various materials into a fine powder. Before this, though, I needed to have a bowl of some sort to hold the powder in. I decided to go digging for freshwater clams to use their shells as bowls. In Michigan, you can find clams or even empty clam shells very easily in any body of water that has a soft muddy bottom.

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Next, I had to make the pigment by crushing the raw materials into a powder with my hammer and anvil.

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I decided to make red, black, and green paint. The black pigment was just crushed coal from a fire pit.

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The red pigment was made by smashing and grinding hematite (an iron ore) into a powder. This was significantly harder than crushing coal and it took a very long time and a lot of energy.

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My wife helped out with this long process!

 

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Pigment powder

The green pigment was made by crushing copper ore in a similar way. I enlisted the help of my friend Spencer for this pigment.


Now that we had all the pigments all I needed to do was to mix them in with some type of binding ingredient to make a thick paint paste. Evidence shows us that the most common ingredient used as a binder in Paleolithic times was animal fat or lard. Since I’m not yet skilled enough to hunt and render lard using my own Stone Age tools, I cheated and bought some lard from the store.

I mixed the lard in some larger clam shells I had and made a thick paste. The colors were very muted, but I think it turned out fairly well.


After this, all Spencer and I had to do was find flat stones and finger paint. Below are pictures of our final products.

Spencer’s painting

 

My painting

Hammer and Anvil

When most people think of a hammer and anvil, they picture this…

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But the technology of a hammer and anvil goes back to before we were even humans. In fact, many of our primate cousins use them, such as Chimpanzees and Capuchin Monkeys. Hammers and anvils are about the most simple tools there are, but they are enormously important for most Stone Age craft. In fact, I needed a set to be able to complete four of the projects I am currently working on.

First I needed to find a hammerstone. It’s a pretty simple task. You just need to find a stone that is shaped kind of like an egg that you can grip comfortably in your hand.

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Next, you need an anvil. Any stable flat surface can work as an anvil, so there are many types. I wanted a relatively small one so it could be portable. Sometimes you can find a rock with good balance and a naturally flat bottom and top, but you’ll likely get a better result by finding a rock and breaking it against another rock until it cracks and becomes a flat surface. In my case the top is mostly flat, but slightly concave which makes it useful as a mortar and pestle set as well.

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That’s it! Now you can use it for any number of things. Grinding, smashing, shaping, etc.

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