How archaeologists can decide if prehistoric artefacts count as art

RGAJ63 Caveman painting in a cave

Esteban De Armas/Alamy

IN HIS poem The Conundrum of the Workshops, Rudyard Kipling imagined an early human pausing to admire a drawing he had scratched in the dirt, only to hear a voice whispering: “It’s pretty, but is it Art?”

Archaeologists know a bit about scratching in the dirt, and when their excavations reveal a beautiful ancient object, they find themselves asking the very same question. They are motivated by a desire to step inside the minds of our prehistoric ancestors. In many cases, they want to understand if and when ancient hominins began to create art, as we explore in…

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