"The First Artists": A new special exhibit

April 15, 1997-May 30, 1997
Location: Prehistory Gallery of the Archaeology Wing
Curator: Debby Hershman
Media: Stone figurine, stone and flint plaques
When objects of portable art and prehistoric cave drawings were uncovered in Europe in the 19th Century scholars placed the beginning of art at the end of the Late Stone Age, with the appearance of modern man Homo sapiens. But objects displayed in the exhibition The First Artists may overturn that theory: the 250,000-year-old female figurine discovered at Berekhat Ram in the Golan Heights, together with a 55,000-year-old flint plaque decorated with the symbols of a rainbow in Quneitra, also in the Golan, and a 30,000-year-old drawing of a horse on a stone plaque from Hayonim Cave in the Galilee, are the oldest artworks discovered in Israel and among the earliest artwork in the world. They provide evidence of a rich and diversified culture outside Europe even before the appearance of modern man. Prehistoric art focuses on three main subjects: human images, abstract symbols, and animal forms. Among the most frequent finds are "Venus Figurines", which represent the first deities and were apparently amulets; symbols used in religious ceremonies; and animal images, particularly horses, which played an important role in myth, belief, and ritual. The ancient art objects uncovered at prehistoric sites in Israel may point to an artistic and religious tradition that lasted tens of thousands of years. It is possible that this spiritual tradition, engendered by the ancient human species of the Middle East, was the source of the culture from which the European artists of the Late Stone age emerged.