People & Caverns Lesson 1 Supplement: Cave Art

Background Information

There are three forms of cave art . Although these art forms are in use today, we associate them mainly with ancient people – as methods for recording spoken history.

PICTOGRAPHS – images painted on a rock surface (cave or otherwise). Numerous pigments and methods of application were used in this type of cave art.

PETROGLYPHS – images created by cutting a rock surface. Artists used tools to scratch, groove, drill or peck at the rock.

PETROFORMS – images created on the earth’s surface by placing rocks in a pattern. These may be small, simple images or large (up to many acres) and/or complex. (Some designs are easier to see from the air.)
Of these forms of cave art, pictographs are the best known and the most fragile. The protected cavern environment has been essential in conserving these delicate ancient images.

Listed here are several sources for pigment and stains that ancient people used:

clay (red)bird; droppings (white); charcoal (black); graphite (black); chalk (white); manganese ore (black); iron ore (red & brown); berries; other plants

These pigments were mixed with another ingredient to create a paint texture. Some of these paint “binders” included:

plant juice/oil ;animal fat/oil; glue from hides; egg whites; blood; urine; water

The pigments were mixed with the binder using grinding stones, sticks, etc. Possible containers were:
gourds; bark trays; stone bowls; clay pots; large leaves; shells; turtle shells; skulls

Tools to paint with included:
hands and fingers; pointed bones; sticks; quills; feathers

Brushes were made from:
hair; fiber; chewed twig ends; fur; moss; hide

Chunks of charcoal were used directly on rock like a pencil

Hollow reeds were used to blow powdered pigments (like spray painting)

Experiments & Activities

All Grades: “Become a Cave Artist”


Option 1: sticks (dowels or twigs); scraps of fabric ;glue
Option 2: craft brushes; Q-Tips

Option 1: red clay; powdered chalk; water; bowl; wooden spoon
Option 2: tempera paints

Painting Canvas
Option 1: fist-sized or larger rocks
Option 2: brown paper bags that have been crumpled, soaked in water and dried flat, but not pressed (resembles a leather hide when ready.)


If using Option 1, create brushes by spreading glue at one end of stick and wrapping fabric around it. Let dry while mixing paint. Carefully mix clay or chalk with water to create paint. Be careful to not add too much water or your paint will be a thin liquid.

Create drawings to tell the story of a special event (sports game, birthday, etc.)

While art is drying lead a discussion on the difference between ancient art materials and modern artists’ tools.


Discuss the differences between ancient cave art used to record history and modern methods of recording history (photographs/videos, books, statues, etc.)

Note: pictures of actual cave art would be an excellent addition to this lesson.