Primitive Cave Art


  • Participate in a discussion about primitive cave people
  • Tell at least one animal depicted in primitive cave art
  • Be able to describe one tool/material in making primitive cave art
  • Work cooperatively as a member of a small group


  • Artist-a person who creates art
  • Primitive art-art created by people with no formal art training
  • Realistic-art which looks like what we see in real life

What You Need:

  • Primitive art posters
  • Brown Paper (may be crumpled to simulate a rough rocky surface)-one per student
  • Hard vine charcoal-one per student
  • Red, orange, brown, black oil pastels-one per group
  • Globe (see classroom teacher)
  • Berries* (blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries) that can be applied with fingers, leaves, or sticks
  • charred sticks*
  • rocks*

*optional items


Hello. My name is ______. This year we are going to talk about art and artists. Who can tell me what an artist is? (Encourage as much response as possible. Try to bring out that an artist observes carefully and often sees things in original ways. Talk about kinds of art-painting, sculpture, architecture, etc)

Today we are going to talk about primitive art and look at some paintings made over 20, 000 years ago by cave men. The term primitive art means art that is made by people who have not had any formal training. About 90% of primitive cave art is located in Southern France and Northern Spain (show on globe). People of that time lived in caves for shelter just like we live in houses today. These caves were very large and had many passages and tunnels. Some parts of the cave could even be underwater.

Most cave drawings were not located at the front of the cave or entrance. Most often the drawings were deep inside. Sometimes artists would risk their lives just to get to those parts. Some had to swim across underground lakes and others had to crawl on their hands and knees in tight spots just to get where they wanted to draw. The caves were very dark so the cave people used lamps made out of animal fat and wicks made out of dry fibers. These “lamps” would burn about 5 or 6 hours at a time.

Some people today believe the purpose of the art was part of rituals or ceremonies such as marriage, birth, growing up and becoming an adult. The paint used was made from rock. Iron oxide made red and manganese oxide made black. These rocks were ground up and mixed with animal fat to make paint. Other paints were made from animal blood or berries.

The drawings were usually animals such as bison, bears, horses, deer, and wooly mammoths. Sometimes bird and fish were also drawn. The cave people often used the protruding areas of rock to enhance the look of the drawing to make it look more realistic. Hand stencils were also used as a way of signing the finished pieces. The artist would place his hand on the rock and blow paint all around it. When he lifted his hand, it left a print.

Student Activity:

  1. Show posters and allow students to use a pointer to point out various animals on the walls of the caves. Discuss what things they think were used to make the images, colors used, and purpose of drawing. Ask why they think the images lasted so long.
  2. Divide class into small work groups. Give each group a set of supplies and give each student his own paper.
  3. Allow students to draw and outline of an animal they would hunt if they were cavemen.

Optional Display Idea from Cedar Creek Elementary:

Make a cave in an unused storeroom or hallway by hanging wrinkled brown paper on the walls. Glue their artwork all over and include plastic spiders and paper bats. Allow students to crawl in with flashlights and look at the cave.

Books and Resources: