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Mr. Burgher's Art Facts


Mix Master
About Mr.B

Paleolithic: 40,000-10,000 BC.

The best place to start is at the beginning. The Paleolithic period begins at the end of the last ice age. People were hunting nomads that traveled in search for food. Art created by these people was either made as a permanent work that needed to go in a specific location or a very small carving that was easy to carry. The permanent works were painted contours of animals and fertility figures (female Venus figures) and the small figurines were made from stone, bone, antler, ivory, or clay. Either way, the subjects were abstracted. Abstracted artworks are not realistic, but are often based on actual objects or subjects. For example, the cave paintings are not photo-like images of animals, but they are based on identifiable animals in a way we understand visually.

The 'Cult of Mother Goddess' was the main religion of this time. Mother Goddess (AKA Mother Earth Goddess) evolved into the mythological fertility goddess, Cybele. As the Greek Myth is told, Zues (the god of the gods) had a thing for Cybele, but she wanted nothing to do with him. One night he snuck to where she slept and ejaculated on her. This caused her to become pregnant and she gave birth to a little demon called Agdistis. Agdistis had both male and female sexual organs and was very strong. The demon child was so out of control the other gods grew afraid and they cut off the little boy parts and out grew an almond tree. One day a girl named Nana ate some almonds from this tree. Because she did this, she became pregnant and had a son. Her father did what any father would do: he locked her in a tower to kill her, but she was given food by Cybele. Then, after her son was born, her daddy told her to throw the son into the river. This boy, Attis, was found and taken care of by the shepherds. He grew into a major stud. He was so good looking that his grandmother, Cybele, fell in love with him. They fooled around a little, but Attis fell in love with a Kings beautiful daughter. He wanted to marry her. Cybele grew jealous. Just as Attis was going to be married, Cybele told him how much she had suffered after he left her. He felt really bad about this situation and ran crazy through the mountains. Tired from all the running crazy, he stopped next to a pine tree, castrated and killed himself. Violets grew out of his blood. Cybele took Attis' body, the pine tree, and the violets to her cave. Three days later, she is able to bring him back to life. But now, he is Cybele's loyal daughter...

The idealized figurine of the Venus of Willendorf may have served as a charm for a woman that sought a deeper connection with fertility. As a rule of the times, men were not visually created in carvings or paint. This venus figure, however, is related to current practices in various parts of Africa. For example, the Akan peoples from Ghana use the akua'ba (a fertility doll). Woman that wish to have children carry the akua'ba to help with fertility. This practice began with the legend of Akua. Akua could not have children so she had a wooden doll made and she was made fun of for caring for this doll as a real child. Eventually the gods blessed her with a healthy living child (very Pinocchio-like). It is thought that the Venus of Willendorf was of importance to a hunter-gatherer society from 22,000 to 24,000 years ago. This Venus was originally painted with a red ochre paint. She was rediscovered on August 7, 1908 outside of Willendorf, Austria by archaeologist Josef Szombathy. As we look at the carving, we see some parts are very exaggerated while other areas of her body are completely ignored. Looking at the research done by Dr. Nigel Spivey, our brains are programmed to select and be drawn toward specific anatomical points and ignore other parts. All of us are biologically programmed with a natural pull toward the breast and stomach, the most exaggerated points on this Venus.

Venus of Willendorf
24,000-22,000 BC. Oolitic Limestone Carving, 4 3/8" tall. Museum of Natural History, Vienna, Italy.

When we think of the art of pre-historic times, cave painting is at the tip of the list of art types. Many scholars feel that a cave was thought to be a gateway between the living world and the spirit world for the people of this time. There is a story to the magical meanings behind the paintings inside the caves. Only shawmen or religious leaders could enter these caves and create art. Creation of images was a powerful tool only for the most powerful of individuals. Because women were, in all probability, viewed as the most powerful people (because they could create life) they most likely had a powerful role in the creation of the paintings. Based on the findings of the worlds leading researcher of pre-historic cave art, Lewis Williams, the early dotted patterns we can find in caves from Europe to Africa are identical. Why? Basically as shawmen entered the cave their eyes tried to focus in the dark cave. They would have seen spots that blink to form patterns. This sensory deprivation image was then painted on the wall so all could see the visions that the religious leaders saw. Beyond the dotted patterns, the drawings of women and animals (the most important creatures in their civilization) were created. The women were created for respect of their power. It would be an understatement to say the animals were an extremely valuable resource. Spears and arrows were shot at the drawings to gain a magical power going into a hunt. Magic or confidence, the hunters were providing more than food; they gained clothing, tools, and the ability to survive. Why are there so many drawings if only used for this ritual? Simple, can a hunter kill a deer more than once? No, and the this was also the logic behind the drawings. One animal drawing for one hunt ceremony. The most famous cave is the Lascaux Cave.

The Lascaux Cave (pronounced "Lass Co") is a deep limestone cave in France that contains images of abstracted bulls, horses, mammoth, lion, etc. Most of the animals are created in contour. This is the basic outline of the animal. On Thursday September 12, 1940 four boys discovered this cave. Archaeologists have searched this location for insights to its potential for clues to our human ancestry. Over an eleven-year span, starting in 1952, André Glory took on the awesome job of recording many of the 900 engravings from several of the cave's chambers and oversaw the excavation of the collected objects from within the cave. Unfortunately, Mr. Glory died somewhat suddenly and his work was quickly halted. Based on Glory's data, Arlette Leroi-Gourham assembled a team to archaeologically study the cave in more detail.

The paint itself was made from earth, animal by-products (fat, blood, bone, etc.), charcoal, water, and tree saps. Red and yellow ocher paint was the most common color at this time. The paint was applied with brushes and/or blown from reeds or hallow bones.
One of the works in the cave, and there are many, is grouping known as the Two Bison. It is amazing to see the movement and tension that was created by these early artists. Their dark brown bodies charge out from the limestone wall of the cave.

After World War II, the cave was modified with an enlarged entrance to accommodate 1,200 tourists per day that came into the cave. It was first noticed in 1955 that the paintings were decomposing. What was the main cause of this? A foreign substance? Pollution? Well, sort of both. It was discovered that an excess of carbon dioxide was found with in the cave. Naturally, it was the visitors themselves that exhaled this gas into the ancient caves where it was collecting. Under some conditions, like those found in a cave, carbon dioxide will attach to water vapor, creating carbonic acid (H2CO3). The carbon dioxide levels were monitored, but a few years into this observation, green algae and mosses were detected in the cave. The administrators of the site had no choice but to close the cave on April 20, 1963. As hoped, the Lascaux Cave art returned to the state it was in upon its discovery once the climate and cave conditions were set as they had been for thousands of years. Currently, there is a computerized system that constantly monitors the cave's temperature, hygrometry, and carbon dioxide gas pressure.

Lascaux Cave

Clay became a worked material at about 10,000 BC. Because the early wares were fired at a lower heat, they are not as hard. Firing is believed to have developed about 6000 BC. One of the oldest known examples of pottery was created in Japan. There are also some very early examples of ceramic works in and around the Middle East, specifically in Iran. People have not only used clay to make bowls, cups, cook pots, and statues, but they have also used clay to build houses. One of the earliest examples of pre-historic sculpture is located in the Tuc d' Audoubert in France. This Bison bull and cow pair was made of clay and was never fired (they were never heated to a rock like state).

Mesolithic: 10,000-8000 BC.

At this point in time gathering was the way of life. With the glaciers melting away, people had to adapt to this new world. People were no longer nomadic hunters, but developing a gathering way of life that would transition into farming communities.

Cave painting began to act more as a system of recording events. Humans were being depicted in the paintings more often at this time. There was some pottery being made for storage, but there was little need for design work. The extent of sculpure was arrow heads that were used to provide food for the community.

Neolithic: 8000-3000 BC.

Neolithic people began farming as the normal way of life. With the glaciers moving out, more predictable seasons were able to be tracked and planting/growing seasons became more predictable. They could rely on domesticated heards of animals for food rather than hunting wild game. Some of the newest art forms at this time were weaving and architecture. They also continued to sculpt, paint, and create pottery. Clay tools that were more decorated replaced plain stone and wood tools, although the decoration was secondary to the tool's function.

Stonehenge is no doubt the most known prehistoric relic in the world. It was built in three stages from 3000-2300 BC. The first step was the organization of the smaller bluestones. These eighty stones are from the Prescelli Mountains in Pembroke, South Wales. This is about 240 miles from this location. These bluestones are about six feet high and weigh about 5 tons each. Next came the thirty larger stones from Marlborough Downs, 20 miles from this location. We call these larger stones "Megaliths," meaning great stones. The largest of these stones weighs as much as fifty tons (that is ten million pounds). This circular arrangement of these stones is called a "Cromlech." A "henge" is a circular mound of dirt that surrounds an internal ditch, but Stonehenge is not a true henge! Why? Because the mound and ditch placements are reversed. The stones are believed to act as some sort of sun dial calendar that allows Stonehenge to mark the summer and winter solstice.


Neolithic era stopped in different places at different times. It is usually identified as ending at the time people began smelting copper and/or began developing language. Historic society begins with the invention of written language.

Some of the First Note-Worthy Societies:


In the area that was known as Mesopotamia (in modern day Iraq) was a city called Ur. This was the center of the Sag-gi-ga (Black-headed Ones) or Sumerian civilization. This is considered by most to be the first civilization in Southwest Asia. The Bible refers to this as Ur of the Chaldees (the Chaldeans settled this area in about 900 BC) and it is also the hometown of Abraham, father of the Hebrews. Because of Ur's fertile soil it was perfect for raising crops, sheep, goats and other animals.
Sumerians had great works of art and literature. They had produced great examples of marble sculpture, hammered gold, and other forms of three-dimensional art. Clay was abundant in the river valley. They had the means to import various types of stone, wood, and metal. Their work was so profound due to its decoration and the amount of detail placed in the works. The majority of the work was religious, so quality was important to each artwork.

The world's first great architectural structures, ziggurats, were temples for their gods to interact and move between Earth and the afterlife. Gods, not people, were the ones that used these temples. The priest would be the only human in the temple to attend to the god's needs. This terraced pyramid was stable and had the potential to become an extremely large structure. The terraces range from two to seven levels with a temple at the peak. The large ziggurat at Ur was erected to the moon god Nanna (according to ancient myth). A sixty-four foot tall structure was built around 2100 BC at the order from King Shulgi. The corners align with compass points, and like the Parthenon, the walls slope slightly inwards, giving an impression of solidity. This temple also reflects the Sumerians knowledge of mathematics. It follows the idea of the Golden Ratio very closely. It is the most preserved of all ziggurats in Mesopotamia and has been partially reconstructed reaching a height of 11 m. It stood within a rectangular court 62.5 m x 43 m. at the base. Its outer walls are constructed from a baked brick that was often glazed. Those glazed bricks protected a core of softer adobe or mudbricks. Ziggurats were built until around 2000 BC (the pyramids had stopped being built long before). The ziggurat was developed by the Sumerians, but their influence impacted the Babylonians and Assyrians who both also built ziggurats.

Sumerian cuneiform is the oldest known written language in human history. It was spoken as early as 3300 BC until Aramaic replaced it in about 900 BC. With hundreds of signs, this early writing system is believed to have developed from ancient pictographic symbols. Writing was needed for a convenient way for farmers to keep records of produce, livestock, and accounts of trade. Much later, cuneiform became used to record stories and early history. Sumerians were the earliest to write in cuneiform, closely followed by the Assyrians, Babylonians, and several other societies.


From the central portion of Mesopotamia, later called Babylonia, the city of Akkad emerges as the region's first empire (2334-2112 BC). The southern neighbor of Akkad was Sumer. Allied with the Sumerians, this area has been identified as the "Land of Sumer and Akkad." Akkad had five rulers over a 142-year period of time. They were; Sargon, Rimush, Manishtusu, Naram-Sin (2255-2218 BC), and Shar-kali-sharri.
The first ruler in 2334 BC, Sargon, was not only a ruler but also a warrior that fought in over thirty-four major battles for this country. He, like Moses after him, had a unique beginning. His mother was a high priestess and his father was a gardener. His mother put him in a basket woven out of reeds and let him float away down the river. Sargon was rescued and was brought up in the king's court. For Sargon ruling Akkad was a family business. Enheduanna, one of his daughters, was named priestess of Nanna (the moon god in Ur) and the high priestess of An (the sky god at Uruk). Rimush took over rule after his father's death. This was the first time that a ruler was replaced in rule by his son (this tradition started here). Rimush, like his father, was a warrior-ruler, taking part in several wars. He was assassinated while in power. Manishtusu was the next ruler of the region. He was also a son of Sargon and was also assassinated. Naram-Sin, the grandson of Sargon and son of Manishtusu, came to rule after the death of his father. He would rule Akkad for fifty-six years, calling himself the "King of the Four Quarters" (meaning that he was the ruler of the world). Shar-kali-Sharri succeeded his father, Naram-Sin. Shar-kali-Sharri was a horrible ruler and by 2100 BC the empire broke into many small kingdoms. These minor rulers controlled the region. Now the society was plagued with civil fights over the tenure succession of a ruler, invading nomads, and the infiltration of the Gutians. What was it that turned this thriving society into ruin? It was the very thing that helped the society thrive. War, violence, and the hunger for power. Many of the Akkadian wars were motivated on trade interests rather than making the land safe from those that were of threat to their society. The need for gold and purchase power destroyed this once great society. When Akkad was destroyed, it was overthrown and Akkad was never settled again.

First off a stele is a flat stone slab that has a low relief carving on the surface. The carving generally commemorates an important event or person. On this stele, we can see Naram-Sin lead his troops into enemy territory wearing a horned headdress and carrying a bow with the dead enemies at his feet. The pink limestone Stele of Naram-Sin (sometimes called the Victory Stele of Naram-Sin) celebrates a victory over King Satuni of the Lullubi peoples around 2200 BC (The Lullubi would be located in present day Iran). And some say pink is not tough...

Stele of Naram-Sin
2291-2255 BC. pink limestone, 79" high. Louvre, Paris.


The Gate of God. Near present day Iraq, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, was the city of Babylon. Babylon was the capital of the ancient land of Babylonia. Translated from its Akkadian name, "babilani," meaning "the Gate of God" (although the title would later be associated with Biblical meaning of "confusion"). Babylonia was a blended culture comprised mostly of the Sumer and Akkad cultures. The Babylonians were farmers for the most part. Due to their complex irrigation systems and forms of plow production, Babylon was one of the most fertile areas despite its location in the desert. With an interest in education, Babylon was an advanced culture. They excelled in mathematics, literature, agriculture, science, and art.
One of Babylon's most well known rulers, Hammurabi, was probably born around 1810 BC. During his forty-two-year reign (1792-1750B.C.) Hammurabi became a very powerful ruler. He fought many wars over the years in Uruk, Isin, Larsa, Mari, Eshnunnu, and with neighboring socities. However, it is his Law Code, not the wars and battles, that he became best know for.

The Law Code of Hammurabi is the longest surviving text from this time period. Its 282 common laws address a variety of topics in civil, criminal, and commercial law divided into eleven themes. At the top of this stele, we see an engraved Hammurabi praying to Shamash, the god of the sun and justice, on his throne, handing a scepter and ring to Hammurabi. The legend says that Hammurabi received the code from Shamash in the first year of his reign. There are 16 columns of text on the obverse side and 28 on the reverse. This foundation for law was his way of creating Babylonian stability that would help the culture prosper, especially with its profoundly diverse makeup. He took many customs, ethnic traditions, and cultural rules of transaction and put them into one legal code for all to follow (although the code is closely linked with Sumerian law). He set a tone for law that would be used by many other nations throughout history. After Hammurabi’s death in 1750 BC, such a financial strain was placed on his people that the following rulers broke away from his laws and the loss of revenues created by using his law code weakened the society.

Law Code of Hammurabi
1792-1750 BC. Basalt, 8' high, Louvre, Paris.

The Biblical Tower of Babel was built by King Nimrod the Hunter in about 1800 BC (who is believed to be a descendent of Noah's son Ham). In the Old Testament (or Tanakh) in the Book of Genesis (Chapters 10 and 11) is an account of this building project.

"...And the whole of the world is of one language, and of one speech... And they said, Go to, let us build a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven... And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men built. And the lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they began to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech... Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the Earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the Earth..."

To paraphrase, building this tower was an ambitious project that would result in reaching heaven. God got angry because the builders were childish in that they sought glory for the project rather than use the tower to praise God. Throughout the Old Testament, God mentioned that people should "fill the Earth." This centralized idea of civilization would be in sharp contrast to God's will. Also note that it was "their city and tower" and nowhere was a mention of God's will. As punishment, God gave all the builders a different language and scattered them all over the world. Thus, stopping the building of the Tower of Babel.

Babel and Babylon are both deeply rooted with religious script. Babylon is directly referred to over 250 times in the Bible alone. However, attempting to put religious faith aside, which is usually impossible; let us attempt to look at this tower simply as a building project.

The Tower of Babel was most likely built to provide a central worship location. This massive spiraled ziggurat-like structure with its seven layers is believed to have stood about 300 feet high. Although its original location is unknown to us today, we do know that after it was abandoned, the tower was rebuilt. This rebuild is believed to have started under the rule of Hammurabi to honor the Babylonian god, Marduk. The tower was finished under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar II, sometime between 604-562 BC. It is estimated to have taken seventeen million bricks to complete the project. Alexander the Great destroyed that tower in 331 BC.

King Nebuchadnezzar II, in an attempt to cheer up his homesick wife, Amyitis, built one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Hanging Gardens. She was from a mountainous and green landscape, but was living in the middle of a desert in Babylon. This garden was basically an artificial mountain with a garden on the roof. However, in reality it is believed to have been much more.
The garden design consisted of vaulted terraces that were platformed into the air, one building a base for the next. According to the accounts of Diodorus, the garden was a four hundred foot cube that rose into the air eighty feet. How did one water an eighty-foot high garden without modern plumbing in the middle of a desert? It is believed that a chain, pump, or bucket technology was used to water the hundreds of plants in the garden with a water cannel or waterfall like system. Much has been learned about the garden, but most of the facts surrounding this structure remain a mystery.


Assyria is located in north Mesopotamia, with two major rivers running through it; the Tigris and the Euhprates. Because of rivers, this land is fertile with growing fields. King Tiglat-Pileser (1116-1090 BC) had the hopes of creating a great Assyrian Empire. Hammurabi developed other plans and crushed this societies first empire in 1760 BC. The Assyrians did receive a crude independence in about 1363 BC under Shalmaneser, who helped establish the rebuild of the Assyrian Empire until the last Assyrian king was defeated at Harran in 609 BC.

In about 1500 BC the Assyrians began to develop an art form that would be practiced until about 612 BC. This art is called polychrome carved stone relief. Most of the forms center on animals as a subject, but some also have to do with royal events, hunting, and war. With this art form there are three different styles; Assyrian, Syrian, and Phoenician.


The Persians were a nomadic people that traveled around Siberia with their horses and their cattle. They finally settled in West Asia, what is now Iran, around 1200 BC. They were low key until about 600 BC. In 559 BC Cyrus, a Persian king, began conquering the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Jews, the Phoenicians, the Syrians, the Lydians, and the Greeks from modern day Turkey. Cyrus died in 530 BC and his son Cambyses became king. Cambyses conquered Egypt for the Persian Empire. His downfall was a mental illness that eventually prompted his own people to kill him. Cambyses’ cousin, Darius, seized the throne in 521 BC. Darius was unsuccessful in many military attempts to take more land, including unsuccessful battles with the Scythians and in Athens. Xerxes created a rebellion in Egypt and was also defeated by the Greeks. Eventually Alexander the Great conquered Persia in 331 BC.

Persians to this day are famous for their carpets. They used woven silk to create these textiles that often contained great images of animals, plants, and traditional story lines. But their knowledge and skills in textile design went well beyond the carpets, furniture, wall coverings, coffin decorations, and animal blankets. They also used the textiles for their own clothing. Persian aristocrats had very high standards for their clothing and their fabric was by far the best in the world.

Persians produced jewelry, mainly this was metalwork made of silver, gold, and/or bronze.

Two Bison, Lascaux Cave

Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063