Thousands of years ago, prehistoric people used to live in caves, where they could sleep safely, without being disturbed by predators or harsh weather. Although their lifestyle was completely different from the way of life in the modern world, it can be assumed that usually their days were spent in search of food, while they took rest in the caves at night.
But the question that naturally comes up in mind is what those ancient people used to do when they were forced to stay in the caves, even during the daytime, due to harsh and inclement weather. Leave alone the possibility of passing the idle time with songs and music, because they did not even have the idea about language to talk together. It is assumed that during those times they used to draw figures on the walls and ceilings of the caves with paints made from dirt or charcoal mixed with spit or animal fat, in concurrence with their daily life to keep themselves busy and at the same time, express their personal feelings to others. In other words, cave painting is probably one of the earliest forms of human communication, which is possibly connected to the development of language and also the first aesthetic form of art created by the ancient people.
It is maintained by many that the development of cave art coincided with the displacement of Neanderthal man, who emerged at least 20,000 years ago, by anatomically modern man, starting around 40,000 BC. In reality, the earliest rock art that emerged in caves and rock shelters around the world, especially throughout the Franco-Cantabrian region, belongs to that period and the oldest known cave paintings made by Neanderthals are discovered in the Spanish caves of La Pasiega, Maltravieso and Ardales.
Both the techniques and materials of cave painting improved by stages. While a monochrome cave painting is made with only one colour, usually black or red, a polychrome cave painting consists of two or more colours, as exemplified by the glorious multi-coloured images of bison on the ceiling of Altamira cave, located in Spain. However, the term cave drawing refers to an engraved drawing, made by cutting lines in the rock surface with a flint or stone tool, rather than one made by drawing lines with charcoal or manganese.
During Stone Age, the ancient painters used several different combinations of materials to make coloured paints. While clay ochre provided three basic colours, namely varieties of red, yellow and brown, manganese dioxide or charcoal was used for black. After grinding the pigments to fine powder, it was mixed with cave water, typically high in calcium carbonate, along with animal fats, vegetable juice, blood or urine, to help it stick to the rock surface. The cave painters used seashells as palettes and usually painted in weak daylight with their fingers, before switching to pads of moss, or brushes made of animal hair or vegetable fibre. They also discovered spray painting techniques by using reeds or specially hollowed bones. A hollow bone of a bird, stained with red ochre, dating to about 16,000 BC, was found in the Altamira cave in Spain.
The majority of prehistoric cave paintings were figurative, out of which 99 percent were of animals. During Stone Age, predator animals like lions, rhinoceroses, sabre-toothed felines and bears were the main subjects of painting, along with the game animals like bison and reindeer. Animals like aurochs, a large wild Eurasian ox that was probably exterminated in Britain in the Bronze Age; cervids, a large animal of the deer family and ibex, a wild mountain goat with long, thick ridged horns and a beard, became prevalent later and are found in the Lascaux and Niaux caves in France.
However, birds and fishes were rarely depicted. Apart from that, abstract signs, symbols and other geometric markings were also common in the oldest type of Paleolithic art, as is evident in the caves of the Late Stone Age at El Castillo and Altamira in Spain.