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Prehistoric Art: Gazing into the Minds of Early Humans
A Reading Comprehension Passage by Common Core Texts

We can learn a lot about how early humans lived. We do this by studying artifacts. But is it possible, thousands of years later, to peer into their hearts and minds? What did they think? What did they care about? How did they see themselves? How did they see the world?

We may have answers to these intriguing questions. The answers can be found in the art that early humans left behind. These works of art are windows into the minds of early humans. They can be found in very old caves around the world. There, they are protected from the wind and the rain. They are safe from weathering. They are protected for us to study today.

The first cave paintings were found in Altamira, Spain in 1879. The Altamira paintings are between 18,000 and 11,000 years old. They depict bison and other animals. The paintings are drawn to seem three-dimensional. This was done by painting on the bumps of the rock. Another method used by early artists at Altamira is engraving. Engraving means cutting or carving into stone using a sharp tool. The artist used a sharp rock made out of flint. With this tool, the artist carved lines along the edges of the painting. The artist then filled in the carved lines with black ink.

The most famous and impressive cave paintings are found in Lascaux, France. They were found by four teenage boys out on a hike in the summer of 1940. The boys watched their dog enter a hole in the ground. When they followed the dog, they found something surprising. The hole led to a large cave. When the boys returned with lanterns, they found that the cave walls were covered with paintings.

The Lascaux cave is made up of seven different rooms. There are nearly 600 pictures of animals in total. The most impressive chamber is the Hall of the Bulls. There, cave art depicts horses, stags, and bulls. Some of the artwork has been painted over. Cave artists covered up earlier works of art with much later pictures. From this information, experts infer that several different groups of people lived in the same cave over a long period of time.

The subject matter of cave art is often simple. Cave paintings usually show the animals that early humans hunted or saw. Less often, human beings are shown. Experts usually do not have a hard time agreeing on the subject matter of a painting.

But experts often disagree on the purpose of cave paintings. Did cave paintings have a special religious meaning? Were they an attempt to tell a story? Were they a form of communication from one tribe to another? Were they simply depictions of ordinary life? It is impossible to know for sure. However, most researchers agree that the cave art was probably made for all of these purposes. Just like art today, it was used to communicate with others and to express one’s self.


Intriguing: causing curiosity or wonder
Weathering: the wearing away of a surface from exposure to wind and rain
Depict: to show or represent something through drawing or another art form
Engraving: the process of cutting a design into a hard surface
Infer: to come to a conclusion based on evidence

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