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Palaeolithic Art: Practical experiences within classes

Tuesday, 18 February, 2014
Dr Linda Hurcombe
Number of Participants / Visitors / Audience: 

Linda Hurcombe taught a second and third year module on ‘Ancient Arts and Crafts’, Jan-May 2014

Students had covered both ‘Palaeolithic art’ and ‘craft skills’ in lecture classes but the OpenArch Dialogue with Science theme allowed us to explore how practical experience could benefit understanding.

Flint tools were provided along with shells, ochre, sandstone slabs, slate fragments, charcoal, clay and brushes for the following activities:

1. Imitate a clay mammoth figurine - a commercially available museum copy of the figurine was available so students had a 3D sense of the original object.

2. Ochre and charcoal were used to recreate horses and rhinos on light brown card.

3. Flint tools used to drill shell. The shell could also be abraded on the sandstone slab as an alternative.

4. Hand prints and outlines were made using ochre on fawn card (the ochre was available to use as a powder or liquid with the raw material from the ground also on show.

5. Flint tools were used to etch horses and other designs on slate fragments.

At the end of the practical class students were asked whether the practical experience had helped their understanding and if so how.

The Key Outcomes were:
1. A more detailed appreciation of the diversity of Palaeolithic art across a range of materials.
2. The collection, processing and assembly of materials to make the cut possible as planned.
3. Questions of expertise gained through practice versus innate aptitude.
4. Students spontaneously recognised the elements missing from the archaeological record (wood, hide) and the need to think across traditional artefact study boundaries.


Imitating a clay mammoth figurine
Flint tool used to drill a shell
Horses etched on to a piece of slate