Art that predates written records. The history of the fine arts – painting, engraving, and sculpture – begins around 40000 BC in the Palaeolithic period (Old Stone Age). The oldest known rock engravings are in Australia, but within the next 30,000 years artoccurs on every continent. The earliest surviving artefacts in Europe date from approximately 30000–10000 BC, a period of hunter-gatherer cultures. Small sculptures are generally of fecund female nudes and relate to the cult of the Mother Goddess; for example, the stone Willendorf Venus (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) about 21000 BC. The murals of the caves of Lascaux, France, and Altamira, Spain, depict mostly animals.
During the Neolithic period (New Stone Age) 10000–2000 BC, settled communities were established, which led to a greater technical and aesthetic sophistication in tools, ceramic vessels, jewellery, and human and animal figures. Human figures appear more often in wall paintings, and are skilfully composed into groups. The period 4000–2000 BC saw the erection of the great megalith monuments, such as those at Carnac, France, and Stonehenge, England, and the production of ceramic pots and figurines with decorative elements that were later to be developed in Celtic art.
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