The horse in prehistoric art

The horse is a dominant figure in the Palaeolithic art whether decorated in caves and on shelters or depicted on the found artefacts. In rock art, it figures in about one-third of the animal depictions that have been identified to date. In the Magdalénien era (15,000 BP) the horse was the dominant theme in cave bestiaries. As for the artefacts, depictions of the horse were set on a variety of media: antlers, the bones of various species and ivory. Certain particular pieces use horse bones themselves as raw material to represent the animal’s head. A comparative analysis of horse rock depictions has occasionally been used to try to identify the species depicted or highlight features that can be interpreted in terms of biological evolution. While certain depictions directly evoke wild species living in historical times, such as the Tarpan or Przewalski’s horse, more precise identifications are unreliable, since knowledge of Pleistocene animals is based on the osteological study of remains leftover by deposits from a time when the horse was a game animal like any other.

A dominant figure in Palaeolithic art, the horse is present in the form of artefacts as well as rock art. It provides an iconography equally varied across techniques and styles.

Depictions of horses -as well as other species- reveal a wide variety of both techniques used (drawing, painting, engraving and, from time to time, sculpture) and styles. For example, animal coats may be rendered through a series of hatchings, a more or less complex polychrome and various punctuations... These elements combined to furnish the figure its design and thus individualise the stomach and flank, for instance. Certain head details on rock depictions and on the found artefacts have been interpreted as halters, thus raising the question of horse domestication in the Palaeolithic. These features rather seem the translation of anatomical details depicted by artists highly familiar with the species they depicted.

< >




La grotte Chauvet-Pont d'Arc


Abris sculptés de la Préhistoire