logo

FREE SHIPPING WITH 2 PENS. USE CODE 2PENS.

Could Bone Carving be the first-ever form of art?

April 13, 2022

While we see the art of bone carving in its gleaming beauty today, it sure did have its humble beginnings in a more primal form 50,000 years ago. A recent study published in the journal Nature, Ecology & Evolution, presents the possibility of Neanderthals expressing their abstract thoughts in the form of art through bone carvings. What’s fascinating is that scientists now have reason to believe that the art of carving bones could be the birth of art in itself. This is because the carvings made on the bones, however rudimentary, were intentionally carved to match a specific thought process into actuality for the first time. “It’s an idea, a planned motif that you have in your mind and translate into reality,” study co-author Thomas Terberger, an archaeologist at the University of G√∂ttingen, tells National Geographic’s, Andrew Curry. “It’s the start of culture, the start of abstract thinking, the birth of art.”

 

Although the question of the purpose of the mentioned artwork is still unanswered, what’s certain is that the process of bone carving did hold some cultural significance. This intent was proven by an in-lab experiment where scientists tried to imitate the strokes of the Neanderthals on a similar deer bone. And found that they could not produce the same pattern without first boiling the bones. Even today, 50,000 years later, this process is followed by our bone carving artists at Lucknow, India, albeit for a different purpose. The necessity of having to boil the bones not only showed that Neanderthals used fire but also proved that they desired a specific hardness of the bone to create the intended pattern, hence a certainty of the artwork holding cultural and artistic significance.

 

The art transformed in time to include more sophisticated design patterns. Along with the design, the choice of bone intended for creating the artwork was more refined in time. The hunt of a wild beast could’ve been kept in memory by using its osseous remains to create artwork either to be preserved or to be worn as an ornament signifying strength and courage. Perhaps this undying need for humans to portray their supremacy led to the extinction of several species.

 

The art transformed in time to include more sophisticated design patterns. Along with the design, the choice of bone intended for creating the artwork was more refined in time. The hunt of a wild beast could’ve been kept in memory by using its osseous remains to create artwork either to be preserved or to be worn as an ornament signifying strength and courage. Perhaps this undying need for humans to portray their supremacy led to the extinction of several species.

 

On one side, if there was the development of rarer kinds of animal bones to be found to create artwork, there was also an improvement in the quality and precision of the carving itself. This could be associated with the increasing intricacy of the type of work carried out by our ancestral bone carving artists. Modernizing tools could have contributed towards making helping the artists materialize their thoughts.

 

The conventional art of painting has progressed from creating real-life resembling work to abstract works in recent years. Cave paintings, which are known to be the first-ever pieces of evidence of using color to create artwork, often portray the reality and the life of the humans of the period. In comparison, the art of bone carving has seen an opposite direction in terms of its evolution. It is fascinating that humans chose bones as their canvas to portray their abstract thoughts. The reason could be perhaps the eccentric choice of raw material was thought apt to express equally bizarre thoughts.

 

While the art of bone carving remained in the shadows for thousands of years, and rested with only a handful of regions and tribes, fast-forward to the 16th-century, it gained immense significance and came to the limelight. This was primarily due to the royalty associated with ivory(and bones of exotic animals) and its by-products. The artists of Northeastern India started to improvise their craft, and this effort was augmented by the Nawabs(Kings) of Awadh patronizing their work. Soon, artists transformed the artwork from representing abstract thoughts to portraying real-world elements. Beautiful representations of animals such as peacocks, lions, and elephants took off as they symbolized strength, power, and royalty in the Nawabian era. Works resembling the architecture of the Mughal Empire were also one of the critical design elements adopted by the artists of the time. While the affluent glorified the artwork for its aesthetics, the artists began to create works out of bone carving for its utility. These included artifacts such as hookah pots, miniature treasure chests, and jewelry, among other things.

 

In the 21st-century, the art of bone carving has quite clearly lost its once renowned recognition. The art form, which was once lauded and patronized by the kings for its regalia and intricate designs, is now a barely thriving form of art due to the lack of popularity among the masses. So what could be the reason why people would choose handmade over the cheaper mass-produced alternative? What difference does it make to own something that’s unique over something bland? Why create a masterpiece with simple tools painstakingly instead of 3D printing it? Why should a Nawab want his articles to be made from the rarest of the materials found on earth? Why did the Neanderthals feel the need to materialize their ideational thoughts on a piece of antler?

 

Let their purpose be as it may; we humans found art as a means to express our emotions, love, culture, and our unique ability to view the world differently. But unfortunately, amidst a materialistic abundance in the modern world, most people have lost their ability to recognize and treasure handmade art.

 

References:

Smithsonian Magazine Article.
Article published in Nature, Ecology & Evolution.

Please note that no copyright infringement is intended on the antler bone carving image shown in the blog; we do not own nor claim to own the image. The copyright belongs to the rightful owners.