Through their depiction of the human body, what did artists of the prehistoric period reveal about their culture?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Scholars have suggested that many of the earliest representations of the human form in artwork are religious in nature. The depiction of the female form in so-called "Venus" figurines in northern Europe dating to  40000 BCE suggests, for instance, the veneration of a female deity that was associated with fertility and nurturing. The statues are depicted with abstractly exaggerated female features, including large breasts and hips. Other civilizations depicted images of male hunters alongside phallic symbols, suggesting associations between the hunt and masculine virility. Similarly, depictions of men as warriors, such as the brutal depictions of soldiers executing captives in North American Mississippian culture, not only point to the importance of warfare among these peoples, but to a high degree of stratification in their society, as political leaders based their power on waging war successfully. Still other prehistorical peoples, like the cave-painters of Western Europe, did not portray the human form at all, which points to religious taboos against it. 


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