Rhino at Chauvet Cave

This fun art project introduces kids ages 5-12 to the fascinating world of Stone Age cave paintings in France.

Show examples from Chauvet and Lascaux

Begin the project with a brief slideshow of Paleolithic paintings from Lascaux and Chauvet Caves. The kids are amazed that the paintings in these caves have been carbon dated to be 15,000 and 30,000 years old, respectively. In looking at the images of the cave paintings, there are many great topic questions to ask that include:

Since flashlights weren't invented, what light source did the cave painters use? What did cave painters use for art materials? What clues do scientists and art historians use to determine the age of these paintings? Why are there so few representations of humans in cave paintings? What do Stone Age cave paintings mean? What proof do we have of the resilience of our Paleolithic ancestors?Excellent early artists

While kids love looking at slides from art history, they really need to be lead through the images to be able to absorb and analyze their full meaning. Take time to point out the sensitive and skilled lines and colors used by the cave painters. While we may have a stereotype in our heads about cave men from The Flintstones, the cave paintings in Lascaux and Chauvet reveal sophisticated artistic representations of animals. Stone Age people were excellent artists.

Also, teach students how to squint at images to eliminate details and increase contrast. The simple act of squinting is a powerful technique used by artists for visual evaluation.

Suggested art materials

Below is a suggested materials list for a stone age art project:

Roll of kraft paper, 3-feet cut for each student OIl pastels in earth tones (black, white, grey, sepia, ochre, deep red, tan, beige, umber) Spray bottle of watered down paintSimulate the cave surface

First, ask the students to crumple their paper. After all, Stone Age artists would have to create on cave surfaces that would have bumps and a variety of textures, so the paper is meant to simulate that uneven surface.

Review the animals that were shown in the slideshow of cave paintings. For example, this list might include: horses, aurochs, bison, deer, lions, etc. Direct the students to pick a Stone Age animal and to sketch it out to fill the page as much as possible. Consider showing visual references of real horses, bears, or deer so that students feel more confident in their drawing.

Details and final hand print

Show the students how to vary their earth tone colors to create a large prehistoric animal that fills the page and stands out graphically. Suggest that they use black to outline their drawing. Instruct the students to use details on their animals that are similar to those seen in the cave painting examples. Hooves, fur, eyes, ears, and horns are all crucial details in cave paintings.

As the final touch for the Paleolithic animal drawings, ask each student to place their hand on the drawing and use the spray bottle of watered-down paint to leave a cave man signature.

A few final notes

If time and resources permit, consider hanging the cave paintings together in a hallway to create a cave-like feel.

This Paleolithic art project is suitable for a minimum of two 40-minute class sessions.

Mention to the students that scientists and art historians still don't have definitive answers about cave paintings and that research is still ongoing into the ancient caves in France at Lascaux and Chauvet. Also, both of these caves are not open to the public though there is an amazing on-line tour of Lascaux available here.

Also, there is a top-notch documentary film of Chauvet Cave by Werner Herzog called The Cave of Forgotten Dreams. If time permits, consider showing this movie (available on streaming Netflix) to students.