Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Webinar: Natural History at Home – Exploring the Art of Ancient Humans

Webinar: Natural History at Home: Creativity and Communication – Exploring the Art of Ancient Humans
October 16, 2021

Katie Derloshon:
Hello again, and welcome to all of those who have just joined us. My name is, Katie, and I am excited to welcome you to today's program. Hold on one moment. Sorry about that. Had a little frog in my throat. All right. And welcome officially to our first virtual archaeology family weekend to celebrate International Archaeology Day. This weekend, we have two special live archaeology theme programs for you and your family to enjoy. And we have a collection of other activities that you can explore together, too. More information for our other programs and activities will be shared with you at the end of the program.

Now, today to help us celebrate International Archaeology Day, we have guest expert anthropologists, Dr. Briana Pobiner, from our museum joining us. Together, we, with Dr. Briana, we will practice making observations of different types of ancient art, learn about tools or techniques used to create these artworks and create our own work artwork together inspired by what we see today. Now, art has been a tool used to communicate by humans for a very long time. And together today, we will practice making our own art together as a family inspired by art from long ago. Be sure to have some supplies ready to go. Hold on one moment. Sorry, again.

Here is our list of supplies that we hope you have ready to go. Now you'll need a paper, pencil, some coloring supplies, maybe crayons, color pencils, or markers, maybe even some paint, scissors. And then maybe, and also a pencil too. I think I forgot that. Now, let's go ahead and get started by saying hello to, Dr. Briana. Hi, Dr. Briana.

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Hi. Thanks for having me today.

Katie:
Hi, welcome. We are so glad that you could join us today. And Dr. Briana, I don't see you on my screen yet. Let me go ahead and pin you. Woo! Now I see you. Hi, Dr. Briana.

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Hello.

Katie:
All right. We are so excited to learn from what you'll be sharing with us today. Now our families at home just where they're joining us from. Now, where are you joining us from today?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
I am joining you all from my house in Silver Spring, Maryland in the US.

Katie:
All right. Well, thank you so much again for joining us today, Dr. Briana, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do at the museum?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Sure. I'd be happy to. The first thing though, I'll tell you a little bit about how I got to the museum and how I got interested in what I do. I grew up in Westchester County, New York. And so you can see some photos of me here as a little kid. You can see on the left, in this photo, I was really always interested in observing and investigating things. And I always love being outside that picture in the middle, as of me at a pool when I was much younger. And on the right, I didn't actually start playing tennis when I was that young. But I didn't start long after that. And I played tennis for my high school and college teams, and I still play regularly today. But I wasn't really into science until I got to college. And now I'm a paleoanthropologist, which means I study human evolution and I'm particularly interested in what kind of food people ate in the past. As a museum researcher, I do field work, most often in Kenya and other places in Africa to uncover fossils and other kinds of evidence that are clues to the past.

Katie:
Sounds cool. And Dr. Briana, I noticed that you're using many different items or tools when you're out in the field in these pictures that we see here. I see you holding a camera. I see you writing in or holding notebooks, and I see you're even using a brush in that one on the bottom right. Can you tell us a little bit more about some of these tools you use as an anthropologist?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Yeah, absolutely. And so if you look through all the photos of me doing field work, you'd probably see in a lot of them, I'm holding a notebook and a camera because recording both the evidence that we're finding and the process of the research we do is a really important part of being a scientist. And so sometimes we even record the time of day and the weather, because that can affect how likely we are to spot fossils on the ground. In the middle photo here, I'm holding a handheld GPS or a global positioning system. And that's because whenever we find bones or fossils in the field, we record in three dimensions exactly where they're located.

When we excavate archaeological sites, we use to tools like brushes, like you see on the bottom. Shovels, picks and buckets. And there's a very important tool that you'll see in all of these photos that you may not have noticed before. It's my hat. I don't have my field hat with me now. My field hat and my field clothes and equipment are stored in Kenya, but this is the hat that I currently wear to the pool. But a hat is actually a very important tool that we use when we're doing field work.

Katie:
Wow! Excellent. Okay. Thank you for sharing your hat. I really like it. And I bet your field notebooks are filled with some really amazing things. Now today you're here to help us celebrate International Archaeology Day. Can you tell us little bit more about what exactly archaeology is?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Yeah. Absolutely. Archaeology is basically the study of past human behavior. It's not just digging up artifacts or fossils for the sake of finding things, archaeologists, ask specific research questions, and then we figure out how to best answer them using these clues from the past. Behavior doesn't usually fossilize. We need to uncover specific kinds of evidence to understand the lives of ancient people. Some of the questions I ask are, how did they get the food they ate? And archaeologists are interested in, what did people think about the world around them? What did they want to communicate when they made ancient art and jewelry?

And you can see these pictures here in the left hand side and the top, those are an excavation that I worked on in Indonesia, and you can see different types of tools that we're using. In the top right picture were pretty deep down in a pit uncovering artifacts and fossils. And on the bottom right, you can see this wooden structure with a screen. And so even when we excavate the dirt and sediment out of the ground, we also put it through a screen so we can find those little bones and artifacts and maybe pieces of the pottery and other clues that we might have missed when we were excavating, just looking with our eyes.

I'm going to start with talking about storytelling today. And the other things that we think about are, what did early humans want to communicate or ancient humans when they were making some of the things like ancient art and jewelry? Storytelling is an important part of sharing information. We tell stories to each other about our day, about when we were younger, like I just did to you. And we can even use our imagination and creativity to create new stories. Stories are enjoyed by humans of all ages. And one way that humans can share a story or information is through art. Ancient humans used art as a way of communicating and expressing themselves just like we do today.

Katie:
Wow! Okay. That all sounds interesting. Thank you for sharing with us a little bit more about archaeology and it was cool seeing more pictures of you in the field there. We're talking about ancient art. Dr. Briana, how do we know that ancient humans created art?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
That's a great question. There's lots of evidence of ancient art made on the walls of caves and rock shelters dating back at least 40,000 years ago, long time ago. And archaeologists have also found ancient, portable art as it's called, art that is portable. The kind you can take with you, things like carvings of people and animals and even ancient jewelry. You can see in the middle of the pictures here is a necklace made from shell beads.

Katie:
All right. Dr. Briana, I have another question before we start looking closely at some of the objects that you have to share with us today. What types of materials did ancient humans used to create their artwork? Today as a family, we're going to be using things like markers or crayons or paint and paper to do our artwork. Did ancient humans use these types of materials too?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
That's a great question, Katie. So each of humans didn't have quite the same kind of crayons like we do today, but they definitely liked to use colors to make art. They used pigment, which are hard material that naturally occurs in different colors like red, yellow, purple, white, or black. And they rub these pigments onto walls, onto other rocks, or maybe even their own skin to leave powdery colorful traces behind.

Katie:
Okay. Are these rocks here examples of pigments used or color used to make art?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
They are. The dark pigment on the left and the reddish yellow one on the right. They're not just lumps of color that occurred naturally. If you look on the right side of both pigments, you can see a very flat area, which is in the circle now. These areas didn't get flattened naturally, they got flattened because early humans used them like crayons. I bet you've noticed that when use the crayon, it can start off pointy and get flattened too. And actually the pictures that you see here are some of the earliest examples of humans using pigments to that we know were rubbed and they date back to a couple hundred thousand years ago.

Katie:
Wow? Yeah, I know. I definitely have used crayons before for a long time, and you're right, they get flat. It's cool to know that this has been happening for quite some time. I'm sure families at home have experienced that too. Thank you for sharing some of these. And these pigments really seem to work well though, because we can still see some of this artwork from many, many, many years ago. Let's go ahead and talk about some of those examples that you have today to share with us.

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Sorry about that. I think my internet went out for a moment. Let me [crosstalk 00:10:26].

Katie:
We've got you back. We see you.

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Fantastic. Excellent. This is a beautiful example of ancient artwork. We can still see what ancient humans created using pigments just like this example that we're looking at. One really important skill that archaeologists practice when they look at something is making observations. That means we look really closely at an object and see what details we can notice. I would like to invite everyone watching in the audience, it's your turn to practice making observations with your family and share with each other and us in the Q&A what you notice. And I also would like to know what questions are you thinking about when you look at this? What does this make you think about or wonder about?

Katie:
Okay. Dr. Briana, while we give our families a few moments to make some of those observations and share some of what they're thinking, I'm going to share with you something that I'm noticing and I'm seeing lots of families in our Q&A are noticing too, is that there are many, many hands all over the place in this artwork. I'm wondering about these hands and I'm wondering how old this is?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Yeah. Great question. These hand prints are between about 13,000 and 9,500 years old. They're from a site called Cueva de las Manos in Argentina. And the name of the site means cave of the hands, because as you all saw, this has so many outlines of human hands. This cave also has a lot of hunting scenes and drawings of animals like guanacos that are still found in the area today.

Katie:
Wow! Okay. In the Q&A, we have, Aryan, is wondering how many people there were that made this artwork? Ariana's noticing that there are lots of different colors that were used. Vonnie's noticing that there's lots of overlapping hands. Harry's saying that it looks like maybe it's a classroom with lots of students' hands raised up. Very, very cool. Katya's wondering, how did this artwork survive so long? Gray's wondering are these all from the same person? And Melissa says, it looks like it's a lot of clouds instead of hands, maybe it's like to say that this is maybe a cloud scene or something. That's really interesting. And I think that these hands are really interesting to look at and to go off of what Katya's wondering, how did it survive so long? Do we know maybe how this survived so long? Or do we even know how they made these hand prints to look like this?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
That's a great question. A lot of these cave or rock shelter sites that have art, a lot of times they're pretty far back from the entrance of the cave or the rock shelter. As long as they're not disturbed, they can survive for quite a while. And so we do know how, or at least, possibly how these hand prints were made. The ancient people used natural mineral pigments, like some of what you were looking at before. They used red and purple colored ones, which are iron oxides, they used white colored ones, [inaudible 00:13:40]. And they also use manganese oxide which are black colored.

They would, oftentimes, grind them up into a powder and mix them with some binder, like this something sticky to help keep the pigment together. They may have used them like finger paint, or they could have used some tool to paint the wall, maybe a natural brush or something that was soft. Another way they may have done it is used a blowing technique by putting the ground pigment in their hand, mixing it with spit, something wet as a binder, and then blowing through their hand to make that outline that you see in so many of these hand prints.

Katie:
Wow! That's a pretty unique method of painting. So they put the pigment in their mouth or would it be in their hand and they would blow it out?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
I think probably it was in their hand mixed up and then adding a little bit of spit and then they would blow it out from their hand.

Katie:
Wow! That sounds interesting and fun. Maybe a little messy, but sometimes messy is fun. Right? All right. We've got some really excellent comments and questions that are in the Q&A, and we're going to save a few of them to come back to as we start our first craft. Okay. Dr. Briana, I think it's time for us to start working on an artwork together, based off of these hand prints that we just saw. Families, let's go ahead and start our first craft, our first art invitation together today. First we need to gather those supplies that we shared with you at the beginning of the program. Make sure you've got some paper, maybe even a paper sack, if you want to have a different color of surface for your artwork and some scissors, tape, pencil, and something to add pigment to your paper or pigment to your artwork.

Okay. Once you've gotten your supplies ready to go, it's time to start creating the artwork. Throughout the program today, when we're doing the art activity, I'm going to be changing my camera view. Right now I'm going to go ahead and change my camera view. You've at my desk here where I will be doing the craft alongside you. The next step is we need to trace our hands. Whoever's hand is going to be on your hand print artwork, you'll need to have a hand tracing of them. I'm going to be doing it of me and my son. Now, my son isn't here with me. I traced his hand earlier and cut it out so that I can use that as my template for this. Now, you and your family maybe you have one hand print. Maybe you have two. Maybe you have five. Maybe you have 10 hand prints you want to have on your artwork together today. Go ahead and start making those tracings of your hands. And I'm going to get my son's hand print out too, so I can go ahead and trace that as well.

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Katie, I have a couple questions to answer in the Q&A while you're doing that. Does that work now?

Katie:
That sounds great. Go for it.

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Perfect. Okay. I see a question for, Matthew, and Andrew, who asks, are they all adults or children? And I also see a question from Olivia, are they all from the same family? And a similar question from, Leo, an you tell anything about the people from these hand prints, age, gender, et cetera? And the answer is, well, maybe not, they're all from the same family because there are a lot of hand prints, but we can tell something about whether they're all adults or children. And interestingly, even though in our illustration, we had someone who looked male who was blowing through his hand. Some studies looking at basically just the size of the hand prints, it looks like a lot of hand prints in caves were made by women and children. I don't know particularly from this cave, but I know that in a lot of places where you find hand prints, you definitely find hand prints from many different people. That's a great question.

There's another question from, Vanny, is this a process piece created over a long time? And Clara, and Shelly asked, was this a moment in time or created over many years? That's a great question. And I'm not sure I know the answer. What we would probably do to find the answer is to take some samples of the pigment or of sometimes in caves or rock shelters, there are when water drips over the edge or the face of the rock shelter, you might be able to date some of the elements in that water or what's left behind, we might be able to get a sense of whether this was just one day everybody went in and made all their hand prints or whether this was over many years. I don't know the answer for that case, but I really like that question.

Katie:
I do too. And it makes me think about how someone in the Q&A was talking about how it looked like layer or it was like layering, overlapping hands. If it was long period of time, maybe there were hands there and then people kept adding to it. That's really neat. All right. Briana, before we get to more questions, let's go on to the next step. In case any families are ready to move on. Once you have your hands traced, you're going to cut them out so that we can then put them or we can trace them onto our rock paper next. Now families, if you're behind in a step or you're still tracing, that's okay. You can continue to catch up as we continue throughout our program. But I'm going to go ahead and start the next step now which is cutting out our hand outlines. All right. And if there's any other questions, Dr. Briana, are there any other questions that you see in the Q&A that we could chat about while we cut?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Yeah. Ariana asks, why some hands have different color or background color? That's probably because they were made with different kinds of pigments, like I mentioned before. And there's another question, I really like this question. Did they do these hand prints to remember their past relatives? That's from, Sydney. I don't know the answer to that, but I think it's a wonderful question and it may be one motivation for people to have made these hand prints. Maya asks, what does this represent? That's a great question. I think when we're interpreting art from the past, it's really difficult to know what it represents. With hand prints, it's at least we know that's how they were made and that maybe it was a way for people to just say I was here. My family was here, my group was here. I really like these questions.

Katie:
Excellent. Yeah, I know, at least for mine, I'm thinking I'm inspired today by looking at this hand print to have it be like a snapshot in time, especially as my son's getting older. His hand won't be this tiny forever. It's just like a little snapshot, at least for mine. I'm not sure if that's the meaning behind ancient artwork, but for me, it's inspiring me to think of at least my artwork to be that.

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Yeah. Matthew, and Andrew asked, are the pieces of art Time Capsules for us from back then? And maybe they are. That's a great question. And it may have been, again, one reason that people created this art.

Katie:
Excellent. All right. Well, I'm almost done cutting out my second hand and I forgot to remind our families and our friends to be careful with their scissors as they're cutting and to please ask for help from an adult or from your nearby grown up or older sibling to help you with the scissors, if you need help. All right. And again, if you're not done cutting out your hands, that's okay. But we do want to continue on with our steps so that we can see what is next. Okay. The next step we have is we have to prepare our surface that our hand prints are going to be on. For our service today, it's going to be what we call rock paper. Okay?

To prepare our rock paper, we're going to take, well, I've got, it's a grocery bag here. I need to get that handle off of there. Hold on one second. Let me cut this handle off here. And there we go. Okay. What we're going to do is we're going to take whatever paper you want it to be on, if you want it to be on a paper sack, if you want it to be on a blank white piece of paper, whatever paper you want it to be on to give it some texture, go ahead and scrunch it up, give it some texture.

I've got it all scrunched up here, maybe one more, and then I'm going to flatten it out to be a rock paper surface. Now, after the program, maybe you want to go along the edges and maybe rip the edges or cut the edges so they're more jagged so that it's less I guess, perfectly, edged here to be more natural or more rock-like, how you might find rocks out in nature. Now, once you have your rock paper made, you might want to also tape it down to your table so that it's not moving around. If you want to tape it down, this will be a good time to tape it down, but you'll definitely next want to tape down your hand tracings. And this is so that they don't move around while you're adding color. Go ahead and place them on your rock paper, wherever you want them to be. And then you'll want to take some time taping them down.

Now, when we're going to put pigment on our paper, we're going to want to put pigment all around the edges of our hands here. We don't want to tape it down that way, because the pigment's going to go on the tape and not on the rock paper. Instead, we're going to use the loop de loop method of looping our tape around to make a little tape loop. And we're going to tape the back of the hand down onto our rock paper. That way the pigment goes on all of the rock paper and not on any of the tape. I also suggest that you tape down some of the fingers so that the fingers also stay secure to your rock paper as you're adding pigment. All right. I'm going to go ahead and continue with this. Let's jump back in the Q&A and see if there's any other questions.

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Yeah. There's two that I think are great in here. One is from, Taylor, who asks, how did people reach the ceiling? Taylor, I had the exact same question when I was lucky enough to visit some beautiful paleolithic caves in France, that date back to 20 or 30,000 years ago. And I thought, how did people get all the way up there? Some of it may have been the configuration of the cave may have changed a little bit over time. The cave floor may have been in a different place, but I think that's an excellent question. People also may have just used wood to make wooden ladders to be able to get up to the ceiling of the cave. And then there's a great question from, Fraya who asks, was it a territory mark by using the paint on the rocks? It could be. It could be that there were groups that either used particular colors of pigments or these particular types of artwork to basically say, this is our territory. That's a great hypothesis. That may have been the case. Yeah. Those are great questions. Thank you.

Katie:
Briana, looking and thinking about some of these questions that we're hearing and even just seeing hands from that long ago, really can reinforce, or really can show us how art really truly is a human activity and that it's lasted for so long. And we're still asking some pretty amazing questions about art, how it was made, why art is made, even still today and about artwork from a long time. Pretty cool.

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Yeah. I was thinking the same thing. We still ask the same questions about art today, why it was made, what was the person thinking or what did they want to communicate? And these are questions that people who interpret art today are asking.

Katie:
Yeah.

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
I think these are all really good questions. In the deep past, it's really hard to answer the why questions, why did people make this art? What were they thinking? But it's still fun to ask those questions and think about.

Katie:
Mm-hmm <affirmative>. Yep. I agree. All right. Families, if you're still working on neither tracing, cutting out or taping down your hands, keep going, but I do want to share with you the next step. Now the next step is where you can be creative in adding pigment to your rock paper, however you want. I, in my sample here, I used paint and I used a sponge to give it that, I guess, paint feel, spray feel or the spit feel, I guess, where it looks a little bit sprayed on there. I just use old sponge and some paint and dabbed it on there. I didn't have a sponge today, but maybe if you do want to have paint, you could just use a little bit of paint brush or you can have fun using your fingers.

Instead of using paint today, I'm going to use crayon. And Briana, I know you said black was one of the colors that could have been used, so I'm going to use black to do mine. And the way I'm going to do it is I'm going to make sure some of the pigment gets on the rock paper. And some of the pigment actually gets on my hand tracing itself. And that'll tell me that I've colored over in that area, because I don't want to accidentally miss a finger or miss a whole side of my hand. By doing it this way, I can trace around my hand and I can make sure I get pigment on both my hand and the rock paper. Families at home, we are excited to see how you decide to add pigment to your paper, do use crayons? Do use colored pencils, markers, paint or some other unique method? We can't wait to see. I'm going to continue adding pigment to my paper here and let's see. Let us see.

Okay. It looks like we've got some families that are just starting to join us to some new families. We've been asked to potentially do a quick recap of our craft. Maybe we could show families that are already here, working on adding pigment. Maybe we could show the artwork that inspired this first art craft together today, again. We were first looking at hand prints on a cave. And so we made some observations of this, and Dr. Briana shared a little bit about this artwork and ways in which they might have been able to have painted their hands in this fashion or made these hand tracings. And then we're using this as an inspiration to make hand tracings of our own.

We traced our hands. We taped them down onto rock paper or textured scrunched up paper. And now we're just adding pigment of any of our choosing. I'm choosing to use crayon for this. But for my example, I use paint in order to make my hand print tracing appear on my rock paper. All right. We're going to continue here. Dr. Briana, I see that, Dr. Grace, is answering one of our questions in the Q&A, but I want to ask about it too. Can we learn anything about health maybe from these hand prints or age or anything like that?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Yeah. That's a great question. Health, that might be a trickier one to get from hand prints, because really, a lot of the hand prints are outlines of hands. You might be able to see injuries if somebody had some injury to their parts of the hand or their face. But we do, as we talked about a little bit before, we can potentially know a little bit more about maybe age and gender. We might be able to tell, it's basically based on the size of people where kids are smaller, grownups are bigger. We know that if we have really small hand prints that they were made by kids. And there's a great question I just saw come up in that Q&A from, Sydney, can the pigment make them sick? That's a really good question. I don't know the answer to that, but I suspect for some of the types of pigments, if they somehow breathe in or ate a lot of it, it might make them sick. But I think it depends on the type of pigment. That's another good question.

Katie:
That is a great question. Yeah because I know that pigments and stuff we use for artwork today, you definitely don't want to eat it or ingest it. And with one of the methods being used as spit, I don't know. Yeah [crosstalk 00:31:44].

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Spitting into the pigment as opposed to... That's why maybe you're not putting it in your mouth. Exactly.

Katie:
Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
And I thought a recap question from, Akash, who joined late, how and why did humans start this art? That's a great question. The why questions are the tough ones to wrestle with because it's hard to know people's mindsets and motivations in the past. We do have a sense of how long ago people have been making art. We see art in Europe, in Southeast Asia and in other places going back older even than 40,000 years ago. This is something humans have been doing for a long period of time and encourage us to ask, why did they do this? What was the motivation? And in some sense, your guess is as good as ours, thinking about what people were trying to communicate or express with this art.

Katie:
Yeah. And I see that, Kara, is asking about motivation for artwork and reasons why people are making artwork or we're making artwork. And that's still true today with artists around today. Why we're making art or what are the meanings or reasons behind our art is still very relevant within humans making art to day too.

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Absolutely.

Katie:
All right. I know some of our families are probably still adding pigment to their paper, but since I'm finished here, I am going to go ahead and continue on. And families, I hope that you can keep adding pigment, keep adding hand prints, or keep adding artwork to your rock paper as we continue with our program. But we do have a few other artworks that we want to share with you. Once you do have your pigment on your paper, it's time to take off your taped hands. Look at the little hand print there. There's one, and there's two. There are two, my hand print and my son's hand print. So cute. All right. Excellent. That's the final step for our hand print for our rock paper here. Thank you so much families for working alongside us, making your own family portrait of hands together today. And we hope that you'll still continue working on them. But we do want to share, like I said a few minutes ago, with you a few other examples of artwork. Dr. Briana, do you have other artworks to share with us today?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
I do. While hand prints and cave paintings are fantastic. We see them all over the world, there are lots of other kinds of ancient art. Some of them even depicted things that were clearly imagined because they aren't representations of real people or animals. This kind of creativity is important in art too. Here's one example. This is called the Apollo 11 plaque and it was found in the Apollo 11 rock shelter in Namibia.

Katie:
Okay. That looks really, really neat. Families at home let's continue practicing making observations, just like we did with the hand prints, but this time let's look closely at this example. Share with your family and share with us too in the Q&A, any of the things you're noticing, any of the things you're thinking about or any of those things that you're wondering. Dr. Briana, while we give our families a few moments to make some observations and to share those with us in the Q&A, one question I have is why is it named Apollo 11? Because I know Apollo 11 was a space mission that landed on the moon and this was not from the moon. You said it was from a shelter in Namibia, correct?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
That's correct.

Katie:
Yeah. I'm definitely wondering about that and it's age and I'm seeing some in the Q&A, Carrie's noticing that the paint looks faded. Catherine, is wondering if it's broken and they're wondering if there are other pieces or if this is the whole thing. Fray, is wondering, on the rock, is it an animal or is it a human? That's a good question. Leo, says it looks like a mountain goat. Ariana says it looks like a tiger. Maya's saying, is this creature from someone's dream? Maybe. Excellent. I'm wondering that too. Can you tell us a little bit about this, Dr. Briana? What are we looking at here?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Absolutely. These are great observations and questions. First I'll start by telling you that, yes, actually, this stone was broken in two pieces, but you can see where it was broken and it joins up. This is a drawing and it was made of charcoal and it was made on a piece of stone and discovered in 1969. And that's when the first spacecraft Apollo 11 landed on the moon. It was discovered then in this rock shelter in Namibia, which is in Southern Africa. How old was it? Radio carbon and other dating methods confirmed that the layer that this plaque was found in is dated to somewhere between 60,000 and 40,000 years old. You are looking at one of the world's boldest, permanent drawings. And what is it? Some people think the front part of the drawing represents a human while the back part represents an animal.

Katie:
Wow! Okay. Maybe with this being a human or an animal and even questions about someone from someone's dream, perhaps, could this maybe be an example of creativity or imagination? And if so, are there other examples of creativity and imagination?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Absolutely. I think, was it from someone's dream? It very well could have been because we know that there aren't half human half animals around. Here's another example. This one is nicknamed, The Lion-Man figurine. It's about 35,000 years old and it was found in Hohlenstein-Stadel Cave in Germany. This combines human traits with animal features, probably a cat, which is why it's nicknamed The Lion-Man. And this is one of the oldest known animal form sculptures also called zoomorphic sculptures in the world. This combination of human and animal features is found in many other art objects from this part of Europe. And this combination may have had some special meaning for the ancient humans that we're living in.

Katie:
Wow! That is so cool. Dr. Briana, we've talked about painting and even you had just said using charcoal as a way of making art. But how is this Lion-Man figuring made?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
This is a carving, and it was carved from mammoth ivory. Ancient people took the remains of the tusk of a mammoth. A mammoth is an extinct relative of an elephant. And they probably used something sharp, like a Flintstone knife to actually carve it into the shape. And one interesting tidbit, although it's nickname the Lion-Man, some researchers think it actually represents a female form.

Katie:
Okay. That's really cool. Thanks for sharing that. Families at home, we want to invite you to maybe use your imagination a little bit now and think about maybe an imaginary creature that you might like to create. You can even add that creature to your paper with your hand prints now or after the program, if you would like. I'm going to start thinking about an imaginary creature on my scrap paper that I have from when I cut out my hands. And I'm thinking I am imagining maybe a creature that is two of my favorite animals, a shark and a dog. I want it to be quick and a good swimmer, like a shark, but I also want it to be able to live in my house and to be a good companion, like my dog Perry is. I'm wondering families at home, if you're thinking of any imaginative creatures or animals that you can think of that you're imagining with us in the Q&A. And Dr. Briana, while we wait for some families, what about you are? Are you imagining anything?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
I am, and I spend a lot of time doing fieldwork in Africa. I'm imagining a combination of two different African animals. One is an ostrich and the other is a giraffe. And the reason I picked that they both have long necks, and funny enough, actually their scientific names. All animals have scientific games with two names. They both have the word camel in them, the scientific name because of their long necks. An ostrich is called Struthio camelus, and a giraffe, one of the species of giraffe was Giraffa camelopardalis. And the other reason I picked a giraffe is giraffes are my best friend's favorite animal and bear. So graceful.

Katie:
It's lovely. And do you see it in the Q&A, we have from Jen, they're wondering maybe a snake and the dog, so it can be fast and awesome.

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Yeah. I see Ariana, picks a bear man. Ren, suggests mixing an Eagle with a Wolf, I like. Alexa, is thinking about a frog and a spider. Leo, is thinking about a cheetah, manticore, a cheetah-core.

Katie:
Cheetah-core?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
And Taylor, is thinking about something that has the head of a horse and the body of a giraffe. Sydney, picks a llama and a cat, because it's cool. I like that.

Katie:
That does sound cool. And these were in our example here, Briana, was carving, right? I'm wondering if maybe families could take some of these animals they are imagining and perhaps turn them into their own, be inspired to create them in their own sculpture or figuring at home.

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
I think that would be fun to make a figuring out of supplies that you have at home.

Katie:
I think it'd be a lot of fun. All right. Dr. Briana, we've looked at hand prints on rock walls and we've looked at some figurines. Are there other examples that you have to share with us together today?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Yes. Before we jump into other examples, as a review, we looked at a few examples of ancient art, including hand prints, drawings, and carvings. Some of these as we just saw are imaginative creatures, but some of this ancient art basically tells everyday life stories. Our next example is probably one of those. These are prehistoric paintings on a rock shelter in the Shona land in Zimbabwe, the oldest rock shelter paintings in this general area, it goes back about 7,000 years.

Katie:
Whoa! Okay. Families at home let's practice making observations one more time together as we look closely now at this example. Share with your family and share with us too, in the Q&A what you're seeing or noticing. And if you're thinking or wondering anything about this artwork. And Dr. Briana, let's give our families a few moments to think and make their observations. And I'll go ahead and share with you what I'm thinking. One question I have is, it looks like there are some animals or things that look like animals in there. And you said that sometimes stories can can tell about everyday life. And here I see animals. I'm definitely wondering, what this artwork with these animals and everyday life type of story might be sharing?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Yeah. That's a great question. I'm not 100% sure what the scene's about, but my observations, it looks to me like this is a group of people hunting and going out and finding food would certainly have been an everyday occurrence in the ancient past.

Katie:
Yeah. And Ariana, in the Q&A is saying that they see humans hunting animals too. And Alexis, also noticing that to them, It looks like there are a lot of hunters too. And they're wondering with all these animals are around, did it make it easier for them to hunt?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
That's a great question. I would think it would have made it easier to hunt if you had a bigger group of people hunting animals.

Katie:
Yeah. And Olivia is wondering, is it a hunting trip maybe or maybe they're watching instead of hunting these antelopes?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Yeah. It could be, maybe they're going out and watching and observing their behavior to figure out when the best time to hunt is. Or maybe they went far away to actually do the hunting. And maybe this is a place where they all come back together and tell the story about their day.

Katie:
Yeah. That sounds lovely. Now we're asking lots of why questions and thinking of lots of wonderings about these ancient artworks and these are great examples of even potential research questions, even for future scientists to ask. And also, maybe even artists to ask as well when they're researching about ancient art too. These why questions are excellent. And some of these questions are even some that our researchers are thinking about too. Thanks for queuing on and having those questions coming in the Q&A. And now you had just said that maybe this is a place where the family or the group of people might've came back together to share about what they had experienced. I'm thinking of maybe this is like documenting or recording of a potential story that might've happened or a scene. When I think of documenting or recording my family stories or what we did that day, I usually take a picture or sometimes I even write down events.

Dr. Briana, this week, my son took his first steps. I definitely wrote it down. That's something I want to document. It's very exciting. However, seeing these types of artworks has given me another way of thinking, I can potentially document a story or a family story using art materials. Families at home, we're wondering what stories or events might you want to document together today as well through art? You can share with us in the Q&A, and maybe after your program together today, you can continue documenting some of your stories, maybe on your rock paper or on different rock paper. I think for me, Dr. Briana, one thing I might want to do is maybe do a foot tracing to document the foot, the foot moving around in our home now, the little feet.

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
That would be a lot of fun. Maybe you can just, even if you don't mind the mess, you could always do almost finger painting, but you could put some color on the bottom of your son's feet and have him walk around. And then once he gets bigger, you could see how far apart his steps are. That would be fun.

Katie:
I think that would be a lot of fun. That would be really fun. Excellent idea. I might have to be doing that this weekend. All right. That was a lot of fun. And thank you for sharing some of those other story ideas in the Q&A families. Now, today, we explored how art is ancient and how humans have been using art to communicate for a very long time. And we explored different ways that ancient humans created artwork. And we even started creating our own artwork or started thinking about some artworks. We could create inspired by the ancient art that we see

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
We did. And we learned that art is universal and ancient, even going back at least tens of thousands of years. And that artistic creativity and expression is a common feature of ancient humanity. And it was found throughout the world.

Katie:
Wow! Okay. Dr. Briana, thank you so much for joining us together today, to share with us this different aspect of archaeology. It was so much fun learning about all these different art forms and creating some of the artwork inspired together today.

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Thank you. And I really loved all the questions.

Katie:
Yeah. And I see someone in the Q&A is asking about, can they share their artwork? Yeah. Here, again, is the example that I made as our sample for the program. You can see on the PowerPoint here, we can't wait to see how your artwork turned out together. We hope that you will, in fact, share some of your hand prints or those creatures maybe that you made with us today. And maybe you can send them as a family, to our family programs, email NMNH-FamilyPrograms@si.edu. We hope that you will continue celebrating too, International Archaeology Day with us throughout this entire weekend, our Archaeology Family Weekend. Check out our family event page, where you can find information on other live family programs, as well as other activities and other resources too.

And in fact, tomorrow we will be having a second live family program for our Archaeology Family Weekend. And we hope that you will be able to join us tomorrow for our program, Historia Natural en Casa: Mixtec & Mayan Language, Past, Present and Future. Tomorrow's program will be a bilingual program facilitated in both English and Spanish. And we'll feature two guest experts to share about language in their culture. Together, families will learn about both the Mixtec and the Mayan culture and how language is used to share knowledge, history, and how the younger generations are today, being inspired to use language in writing in new ways. Now we hope you all will join us tomorrow as we continue learning together about archaeology this weekend. And for even more activities, or if you want any of these links, you can give us a message in the Q&A, and we have links ready to go to share with you.

And Dr. Briana, you will be joining us for another virtual program for our museum, our Smithsonian Science How, later this month to continue the celebration of International Archaeology Day. Can you share with us a little bit more about that program?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Of course. On Thursday, October 28th, at 1:00 PM Eastern time, I'll be doing an online Smithsonian Science How program, where you'll get to find out all about my own field work at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. And if you're interested in you want to sign up, we can give that to you in the Q&A.

Katie:
Excellent. That sounds interesting. And I hope some of our families will be able to join you for that program. And here in Natural History at Home, we also hope to continue seeing you for our monthly programs. And next month, we will be welcoming back paleo-artists Bob Walters and Tess Kissinger. Now, Bob, and Tess, have visited us many times at the museum and here in our virtual space where they've lead us through drawing many different types of dinosaurs. And I'm excited to see what animals they will teach us how to draw next month. They're going to be kicking off our 2021 celebration of fossils virtual events series. We'll be having different live in asynchronous programs and activities for you, your family, and for all different audiences to explore together all related around bustles. And as we wrap up our program. And before we wrap up any of those other Q&A questions that we have, we do want to give another big, thank you to, Dr.Briana, for joining us today. And for Sherly, for joining us today.

Caregivers, there will be a short survey for you to fill out just after the program. Please take a few minutes to complete it by using the link that will be in the browser after we close the webinar. We are excited to hear your feedback so we can continue to bring meaningful family programming to you and your family. Thank you again so much for joining us. And we look forward to seeing you online in the future. Now, Dr. Briana, we have a few more minutes. Can we answer a few more questions that we have in the Q&A from our families at home?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Absolutely. I see a question from, Leo, that I'm excited to answer it. Can you share about how cave art possibly looks like motion when you firelight? Absolutely. This is my favorite story about cave art. There's a cave in France called Chauvet. The artwork in there is dated back to as far as 30,000 years ago. And so when it was first found by some locals who were doing cave exploring, they let the local officials know about it. And when they were bringing local officials in to show them this cave art, they came in with flickering torches with actual firelight.

And so sometimes if you look at the artwork with flickering firelight, instead of like you saw the hand prints look like they overlapped a little bit, this cave has a lot of animal drawings. And so the animal drawings overlap and researchers were wondering why they maybe were tracing the drawing on top of each other. If you hold up flickering firelight, it actually looks like the animals are moving. When we think about animation as something that is a recent invention, probably not. It's probably that people were actually creating animation tens of thousands of years ago using the natural shape of the cave walls and firelight. I just love that story

Katie:
That is really, really neat to hear and would be exciting to experience. We have another question from, Taylor, in the Q&A, what is your favorite cave art? And do you like ones with animals?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
I do. My favorite cave art, I think, are probably the ones that just depict those probably everyday scenes, like the hunting scenes or scenes where people are drawing the animals that they saw in nature, because while there weren't cameras around thousands of years ago, this was a way for people to just capture what was going on in their daily life. I really enjoy that kind of cave art.

Katie:
I agree. And we have a comment in the Q&A about maybe, they're inspired and going off of your story of everyday life, maybe doing artwork like this to have, maybe, it's a journal for their day to day, and maybe they can continue it as a journal for their day-to-day too. [crosstalk 00:53:50].

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Yeah. And they have also been people really making observations of animals at different times of the year. There are some animals that migrate and so they go to different places at different times of the year. It may have also been a way for them to even keep track of what animals were around and what times of year.

Katie:
Excellent. Well, Dr. Briana, that takes us right up to noon. If you have other questions for Dr. Briana, or you want to continue learning with her, please be sure to join her for that Smithsonian Science How, on October 28th. Correct the 28th?

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Correct.

Katie:
All right.

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
[crosstalk 00:54:26] 28th, at 1:00 PM, Eastern Time.

Katie:
Excellent. We want to say one more time, a big thank you again to, Dr. Briana Pobiner, Sherly for joining us today. For everyone in the end and for you, the families at home, thank you so much for joining us. It was so much fun having you here with us today at Natural History at Home, and we hope to see you again next time. Thanks everyone.

Dr. Briana Pobiner:
Bye.

Katie:
Bye.

Archived Webinar

This Zoom webinar with Anthropologist Briana Pobiner aired October 16, 2021, as part of the Natural History at Home and Archaeology Family Weekend series. Watch a recording in the player above.

Accessibility Notes

  • This video includes closed captions and American Sign Language interpretation.

Description

In this video, families will explore art made by ancient humans! Anthropologist Briana Pobiner joins us to share about different artifacts from our collection, the Hall of Human Origins exhibit, and from other locations around the world. Together we will make observations of these objects to learn more about how art and imagination have been a part of our human story here on this planet. Both throughout and after the program, families will be encouraged to create art together using methods and inspiration from ancient human artworks and artifacts.

Moderator: Katie Derloshon, a museum educator at the National Museum of Natural History.

Please have the following materials ready at the start of the program:

  • Paper sack or piece of blank paper
  • Blank paper
  • Markers or crayons
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Pencil
  • Paint and small piece of sponge (optional)

Related Resources

Resource Type
Videos and Webcasts
Grade Level
K-2, 3-5
Topics
Social Studies
Exhibit
David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins