Apollo 11 Cave (Namibia) c. 30,000 BP

Africa’s oldest known paintings, small stone plaquettes with images of animals, were excavated from a rock shelter in southern Namibia in 1969 when the first spacecraft (Apollo 11) landed on the moon, hence its name. The date derived from charcoal deposits found in the layers of sediment surrounding the plaquettes. They may never have formed a part of the shelter wall but, rather, have been loose stones on which paintings were made.

Such art is known, in French, as art mobilier (literally, ‘movable art’). The detail from the Chauvet Cave in southern France (left), depicting woolly rhinos, shows how paintings of a similar age have been well preserved because they were created in an area of total darkness, completely sheltered from weathering. Pigment from this site has been carbon dated to about 32,000 years ago, making these the world’s oldest known rock paintings. The artists who painted at Chauvet are believed to have been Cro-Magnon people who had emigrated from Africa, bringing their artistic skills with them.

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