There is no remembrance of earlier things…
The earliest known works of art dated to the Prehistoric period are mostly images of animals, which is a good indicator of what was important to people who lived a long time before us. But before we begin to discuss why there are so few human images in caves worldwide, let’s define the rather ambiguous term ‘Prehistoric.’
It’s relatively simple: ‘Prehistoric’ means before recorded history. This includes all world history – before anyone used writing. This is actually our first warning about the study of all things Prehistoric. We have no written record, so it is difficult at best to determine what happened before people used words to record the events in their lives. So we proceed with caution, avoiding assumptions and depending instead on facts.
There are three general ages of prehistory, also called the Stone Age, on which most scholars and scientists can agree. The first is Paleolithic (Old Stone Age); the second is the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age); and the third is Neolithic (the New Stone Age.) The approximate dates of these three periods vary by discipline, but we can use these general dates to guide our study: Paleolithic – 30,000 to 10,000 BC; Mesolithic – 10,000 to 8,000 BC; and Neolithic – 8,000 to 3,000 BC.
If you are an evolutionist (most people are) then the dates are still up for grabs as science postulates, verifies, re-postulates, re-verifies and so on, in an attempt to correct itself as new theories, tools and systems of thought develop. After all, things evolve.
If you are a biblical literalist (most people aren’t) then you know that God destroyed the living things of this world in the great flood described in Genesis, saving only eight people and at least two of every animal, bird and creeping thing to start anew. As such, most of the art created before this time would have been destroyed or fossilized, and so the dates offered above don’t mean much.
If you are a Scientologist or a Muslim or a Buddhist or a Hindu or a Zoroastrian, I am not sure what you believe as each of these systems of thought / belief varies from both the strictly evolutionist and the biblical literalist views. In this day and age, lots of people tend to decide or even just make up what they believe as they go, which can be temporarily convenient but ends up quite confusing when you try to pass on your beliefs to your children or others.
Whatever you believe, it is interesting to point out that Prehistoric Art covers a very wide swath of time. Some stretch it back to 40,000 years ago; some go only as far as about 20,000. It’s fine with me that we can’t really date a work of art to a specific year; what does bother me is the ease with which we pronounce the art object’s purpose, or function.
Various theories hold that cave art was created to help ancient man / caveman / ape-man to find and kill prey; to honor the dead animals; to worship the spirits of the dead animals; or to induct youth into adulthood. This list is not exhaustive.
The truth is, we have no idea. Prehistoric art cannot ever be truly analyzed because we simply don’t know much about it. Sure, scientists claim they can pinpoint dates, but the official dates given to many prehistoric figures and images have been revised so often in the last several decades that no one really knows when they were made, even within a margin of several thousand years.
Let me ask this rhetorical question. How many of you can state with accuracy where you were and what you were doing on May 8, 2004? How about August 16, 1999? I’m guessing not too many of you.
We, who profess to be knowledgeable of and intimate with our Self, our Mind and our Memory, with rare exception cannot accurately describe some basic depositional questions about our own personal histories, even when given the opportunity to look up the written record or even our Facebook timeline. How can we then postulate what artists meant upwards of 20,000 years ago?
Let’s examine this tendency we have to explain and define the art of the past without truly knowing anything about it by looking at what is arguably the most famous work of Prehistoric art, the Venus of Willendorf.
Issues about the title notwithstanding, I can say with certainty that this small, perhaps 4-5 inch figure was excavated around the small Austrian village of Willendorf in 1908. I can also say that she was pronounced a “Venus” figure because the finder immediately identified the figure as female – who could blame him? But that’s where I would have to draw the line.
Sure, it’s probably a female; scholarship widely agrees on this. But is it a representation of a divine goddess, a fertility goddess, a household cult figure of mother earth / Gaia, or a priestess of some such religion? I do not know. Neither do you.
Yet scholars insist that the Venus of Willendorf is a female fertility goddess, the object of adoration, veneration and worship of a particular culture who deemed her role in their daily lives so important that they spent precious time, precious daylight carving her, in order to…pray to her? Worship her? Find favor from her during a hard bout of PMS? Says who?
Pretty much every textbook you can put your hands on. Remember, some scholars resent that the small work of art is titled “Venus” of Willendorf, re-naming her “Woman” of Willendorf, and yet these same scholars continue to both define and defend the artwork as a…yes, you guessed it – a goddess!
You will be well served to remember that just because you read it in an academic reference or textbook, or just because some PhD said it, doesn’t necessarily make it true. Theories are wonderful, so long as they remain in the realm of theory. It is when theories creep into the realm of facts – of truth – we should definitely duck down and take cover, lest we lose our heads.
I do think that what many scholars say about the Venus of Willendorf is most likely true. She probably did serve some purpose, at least for her maker, and she probably does somehow reference fertility. But the only certainty here is that at least one person found her of some import because she was carved, crafted, created.
Human hands made her; they even took the time to paint her with ground-up pigments, suspended in water with a little animal fat (a sacrifice in itself!) and painstakingly applied with a tool fashioned for just such a purpose – perhaps a twig or an old trusted reed. Could she have been someone’s young wife, claimed by death in childbirth? Could she be a tribute to a grandmother who laughed at counting calories? There are countless theories here; we just need to find the most reasonable one.
As you begin to look at art, maybe for the first time, or maybe for the first time since you were a child in school or a student in college, you should ask yourself these questions as a simple but effective way to begin to analyze art:
1) Who made it? When? Where? For whom? (If known)
2) Are there any witnesses? Written records? Photographs?
3) How does my life experience shed light on numbers 1 and 2?
Draw your own conclusions about any work of art you view from this quick assessment, and go from there to further your knowledge about art history.
However, please remember that this bit of advice on how to view and analyze a work of art, especially art created by people who are now dead, is not intended in any way to diminish or belittle what is often a life’s work for many scholars who labor and then freely impart their findings to us, quite often at great personal and financial cost, for our benefit! I am just suggesting that we all need to be careful with our natural human tendency to believe without question those who profess to know more than we do, and to also be careful about leaping to conclusions.
Now let’s apply this new approach to analyzing art, and take a look at some bona fide Prehistoric art. We’ll narrow the field down and look at two well-known examples – cave art and Stonehenge.
We can hardly reference Prehistoric art without mentioning cave art. Images found deep inside the dark recesses of caves all over Europe were first publicized in the middle of the 19th century. The stories about discovering pictures of animals in ancient caves at Altamira, Spain, Lascaux, France, and Chauvet, France, have ignited the imaginations of countless amateur archeologists all over the world. What explorer doesn’t long to discover Prehistoric art in the same way that André David and Henri Dutertre did in the village of Cabrerets in France in 1922, when they stumbled up the scenes in Pech-Merle?
More recently, three spelunkers dug their way into a cave near Chauvet in southern France in December 1994 and discovered quite a few cave paintings. The French government bought the land the following year, and now some of the images can be seen online but not in person. Even researchers see the real thing by invitation only. This is pretty much the norm for all authenticated, official cave art, so if you’re interested in discovering it or seeing it for yourself, invest in a headlamp and make friends with someone who likes to cave – it’s a bad idea to go spelunking alone, what with Gollum and all.
While I’m happy to leave the speleology to others, what does concern me – and what should pique your interest – is the consistency in iconography in almost all known cave art. Iconography simply refers to the study of signs and symbols in any given work of art. Iconography is ordinarily defined as a language exclusive to images. Over time, some images have come to represent an idea bigger than just that particular image, in the same way that the golden arches are representative of McDonald’s.
For instance, when you see a cross (or a man on a cross) in art, you are to think of Jesus Christ. When you see a woman with a child in art, you are to think of Mary and the baby Jesus. When you see images of many human hands on a cave wall in Argentina,
outlined with paint that scientists suggest was blown around real hands about 30,000 years ago, you think of that time when you were a kid and you photocopied your own hand at your mom or dad’s office to see…well, what your hand looked like.
Of course, if you grew up more recently, you have no idea how thrilling it was to photocopy your very own hand and I am quite sorry that you missed out on this rite of passage.
Curiously, Prehistoric “hand” art has shown up in caves all over the world. Now, I don’t know if there is any money in becoming a hand-art archeologist but it seems like a good career choice if you don’t mind dark, damp places.
There is a very real connection between ancient man and us – and it is critical to understanding our past that we recognize and explore this connection, not just the art that bridges the gap. It affirms that we are not so advanced that we can claim superiority over these ancient cave painters just because our technology is better. Our photocopy might look more realistic, but our goal is the same – to leave our mark, to say, “I was here.” What is even more telling is that these “hand” paintings are not exclusive to Europe and South America; they have turned up in Australia and Alaska and Africa and all sorts of other A-list places as well.
The last word on cave art here: There is relatively little representation of humanity in ancient cave art as most of the subject matter is animal.
If you are an evolutionist, then this snub is merely a case of classism, as the painters clearly revered some types of animals (horses, bulls, ibex, etc.) over others (men, women and children).
If you are not an evolutionist, then it is infinitely more interesting because you are then compelled to consider why animals were imaged and people were not.
Whatever you are, it’s safe to say that we don’t have a clue as to why the early artists painted what they did. But we do know that they sacrificed material goods such as minerals, water, animal fat, oil and fire to make their images, so that must mean that these animals, and the reproducing of them in the farthest corners of caves all over the world, was of the utmost importance to early humankind. We continue to make art that is important to us – it’s just that the subject matter, style and materials change from time to time. But our human impulse to make art has been with us since the beginning.
Incidentally, I think one of the biggest mistakes we make as 21st-century Americans (or global citizens) when we look at the past is one of superiority. We have this idea that we have somehow evolved so highly that we actually view our ancestors as less intelligent than ourselves, largely because of our advances in science, medicine and technology.
However, the works of art that are presented here will, I think, prove otherwise. We need only look at the Egyptian pyramids or at Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel or Stonehenge to know that those who came before us are at the very least our equals in mental, physical and emotional capabilities.
Stonehenge is famous the world over and is often representative of Great Britain in travel brochures, movies and other media. Frequently viewed as an ancient type of architecture, Stonehenge dates to about 2500 to 2000 BC, though some ditch diggers apparently got started on this around 3100 BC.
It consists of some rather large rocks, called megaliths (megas = ‘great’; lithos = ‘stone’) that are purposefully grouped in a kind of circle.
No one is absolutely sure as to why this circle of upright stones was erected, but one of the latest acceptable theories is that it originally functioned as a space reserved for seasonal issues, which hints at agricultural issues. By this I mean that it could have been a rather large clock used to determine the passage of time and seasons as well as the comings-and-goings of pagan celebrations, rituals and traditions.
Again, it’s just a guess. I daresay that the pagans who gather there every summer for the solstice party have more to offer in the way of an explanation. Even so, any insider knowledge from the Druids is still pure speculation. None of us were there when it was formed, and there’s no written record, so that’s that.
Some of the latest research underway at Stonehenge also offers evidence that points to its use as a burial ground.
Many more stone circles, standing stones (called menhirs) and other types of Neolithic works of art/architecture dot the British Isles from southern Wales to Northern Scotland, and throughout Ireland. Some grace the French landscape around Carnac in Brittany – over 3,000 of them to be exact. Legends and myths swirl around all of these megalithic works of art, but without any record other than the stones themselves, we are left with no recourse but to wonder about simple human ingenuity.
Speaking of ingenuity, it was about 3,500 to 3,000 BC when experts claim our ancestors began to transition from the Neolithic Age to the Bronze Age, characterized by a more systematic approach to agriculture, metalworking and a widespread use of writing. Generally speaking, the term ‘Bronze Age’ describes a new way of life for a wide range of people groups. In short, they spent less time hunting and gathering and more time farming and building, although hunting was and is still quite popular in these and other world cultures.
One of the earliest known communities is Jericho in modern-day Jordan. Many art textbooks include an image of one of the many skulls found in Jericho
as evidence of early art made within the context of community life. Partially covered in colored plaster with cowries (seashells) for eyes, the skull is usually described as an early attempt to model a naturalistic portrait of the dead, as these ‘works of art’ were found at gravesites.
Personally, I have always had difficulty in analyzing a human skull – even one so richly decorated – as a work of art.
Perhaps this ancient artist was way ahead of his time and is in posthumous need of an agent or dealer, as the remains of the dead are all the rage in some postmodern art circles, even though this artist (Damien Hirst) had to apologize for saying that the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S. were like a “work of art.”
What I do not begrudge as art are the many skillfully wrought works – sculptures, paintings, metalwork, pottery, architecture, manuscripts and mosaics – that comprise the bulk of both the Mesopotamian and Egyptian art histories. Because Egyptian culture, and to a lesser degree Mesopotamian cultures, both influenced the art of the Greeks and later the Byzantines, we will take a brief look at the art of these civilizations here.
If you consult a map, you’ll find that the Mesopotamian cultures inhabited an area of land northeast of Egypt, in between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in modern day Iraq. These peoples of the Fertile Crescent (‘Mesopotamia’ literally means land between two Rivers) flourished from around 3500 BC until 612 BC, when the Persian Empire broadly displaced the more individual cultures of smaller city-states and kingdoms of Mesopotamia.
I hope that most of us can easily picture the country of Iraq on a map. But now imagine this same country not as a land of endless dry, numbing sand but as a lush oasis teeming with life – because that is exactly what it once was.
Different kingdoms ruled at one time or another, and many of us are familiar with their names. These are some of the kingdoms that came and went: Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Hittites, Elamites and Assyrians. There are many more groups, including Neo-Sumerians and Neo-Babylonians, but we need not list them as they can all be readily researched by anyone who is interested in learning more. Here, we are concerned only with the more important art objects produced by some of these cultures, although much of it is lost, stolen, or destroyed.
One work of art that is still in play is the famous Stele of Hammurabi,
which is a kind of marker or commemorative stone dating to c. 1,760 BC. The Babylonian culture produced it, and it is well known because the lower register of the stele features the earliest extant written code of law.
The laws are etched out in cuneiform (the first known written form of language, identifiable by wedge-shaped marks usually incised in clay tablets), and the image on the top register of the sculpture has been identified as Hammurabi himself receiving the law from the sun god, Shamash. There are between 3,500-4,000 lines of cuneiform characters listing more than 200 laws for the subjects of the Babylonian empire.
Common to all Mesopotamian cultures are the religious temples known as ziggurats. The most famous is the ziggurat at Ur (c. 2100 BC), which is the hometown of Abraham in what is now southern Iraq. These stepped pyramids were made from sun-dried mud bricks and straw, and eventually housed priests and priestesses on the top level of the huge temples.
The various cultures that comprise the Mesopotamians believed in a wide range of gods who needed quite a bit of appeasement. This led to regulations concerning sacrifices; everyone, from farmers and fishermen to merchants and housewives, had to offer sacrifices to the gods at these temples. Sacrificial items ranged from aromatic plants to animals, birds and fish and finally to humans.
Scholars agree that these elaborate sacrifices, given in some form on a daily basis, brought about the earliest known form of writing mentioned earlier, cuneiform. Temple authorities needed a system to track each person’s offerings to the gods, and thus the first accountants were born. An old Sumerian proverb claims: “You can have a lord, you can have a King, but the man to fear is the tax collector!”
By the fourth century BC, Alexander the Great had invaded and conquered Mesopotamia. This effectively ended an identifiable Mesopotamian culture since Alexander, tutored by the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle, brought Hellenistic (Greek) ideas to every land he conquered. Also, the Mesopotamian cultures had been at least politically unified under the Persian Empire a few hundred years before the Hellenistic invasion.
But the Persians were also victims of Alexander’s vast campaign for world domination. Alexander also founded the city of Alexandria in Egypt in 331 BC, ‘liberating’ the Egyptians from Persian rule and thus allowing them to continue in their customs up until the advent of Caesar Augustus and his Roman Empire.
If we had to condense the 3,000 plus years of art from ancient Egypt into two words, those two words would be death and permanence. From the uniting of Upper and Lower Egypt in about 3200 BC to the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, Egyptian art was wholly dependent upon the religious beliefs of the Egyptians themselves. They believed in many gods; even their kings, or Pharaohs, were deified.
When you consider that they also believed in reincarnation, and that the ka (soul) of any given dead king could return any time, and that the ka needed a place (usually a sculpture) in which to reside during such visits, then the creation of a work of art representing the king takes on a whole new meaning.
Imagine trying to govern a very large kingdom, with the knowledge that a former leader on the level of Hitler could return at any time with the intention of keeping you in line. This was how many Pharaohs lived out their lives as leaders – in abject fear.
It also speaks volumes about the relative ease with which all the Pharaohs ruled for such a long, uninterrupted length of time. If you are always conscious of what the next world brings you and that the rulers of that next world can both see and influence your every move, you are much less likely to break with tradition.
For these reasons, the Egyptians proscribed a very specific formula for making art of all kinds. They devised a system of uniformity to which every artist adhered, relying on a pre-determined canon (a standard) so that all images conformed to this standard in both form and function. Images not only told stories in ancient Egypt but they were also intended to be homes for the kas of the power elite. Thus, artistic license was not an option.
This canon was always used to determine the proportions, size and style of Egyptian art. When a sculptor set out to create a three-dimensional image of say, a Pharaoh, he first had his stone cut into a large rectangular block. He would then apply a grid to it – imagine a large sheet of graph paper covering the stone. He would sketch out the figure from the front and the profile sides, using the squares on his homemade graph paper to determine the proper size of the entire body by measuring the length of the figure’s foot to determine the proportions for the rest of the figure.
If this sounds confusing, try this: Sit back, and place your bare foot inside the crook of your opposite arm – it should fit exactly between the bend in your arm at your elbow and your wrist. Or, spread your arms, and measure from your middle finger across to your other middle finger. This equals your height.
The human body is proportional to itself; the ancient Egyptians somehow figured this out and used it to create a canon for making a particular style of art that was sustained for over three thousand years. We shall see that the Greeks adopted this use of proportions in making their own art. It was just that their way of thinking about life caused them to produce more naturalistic art.
The Egyptians were much more concerned with the concept – the Big Idea – of what the image represented, and how it functioned in a utilitarian sense. They were less interested in making an art form look realistic or natural.
In fact, the ancient Egyptians did not even have a word (hieroglyphic) for ‘art’ as we commonly understand it. Art as a creative or aesthetic impulse never entered into their way of thinking because they were driven by their belief in the afterlife, and thus their preparation for the afterlife.
To prepare for the afterlife, you needed a place for your ka (soul) to rest. You also needed the means to pay an artist to create the sanctioned sculptures and two-dimensional works of yourself so that your ka (soul) would have this resting place. To die without an image to which you could return was unthinkable. Unfortunately, for many without the means for a proper burial, that meant eternal limbo, a fate worse than death itself.
In fact, if you wanted to truly insult and harm a deceased Egyptian, you simply destroyed any image of him or her. Without this ‘window’ between worlds, the ka was left with no place to go and was thus remanded indefinitely to limbo.
One ancient king who escaped such a fate was Narmer, the legendary first king of united Egypt. A relief sculpture that dates to c. 3,200 BC, the Palette of Narmer has traditionally been interpreted as a historical document that tells the story of how Narmer united Upper and Lower Egypt, though this interpretation has in recent years come under dispute. This is also one of the earliest examples we have of Egyptian hieroglyphics, or picture writing.
Significantly, the rigid, stylized figures in Narmer’s palette set a precedent for Egyptian art that remained the same for thousands of years.
The Egyptian artists codified a formula for representing the human figure in two dimensions (2D) and they stuck with it – the head in profile (isn’t it easier to draw a human head as a profile rather than frontally?); the eye from the front, staring straight ahead (that evil eye!); the torso from the front; and the hips, legs and feet from the side profile, facing the same direction as the head (now, you try to walk like an Egyptian and see how far you get!)
This canonization of a specific style for imaging the human figure proves that the Egyptians wanted to preserve their way of life and their important figures. These artworks are no mere pictures. Instead, they held power for the ancient Egyptians, and just as they didn’t stray from their system of religion for thousands of years, they also didn’t stray from these artistic conventions (generally agreed-upon standard in art). Death and permanence, permanence and death: Egyptians held both in high regard.
The famous image of King Mycerinus and Hs Queen from c. 2,532-2,510 BC once again reiterates this point.
It is an official portrait of the royal couple to be used for their respective kas. Both husband and wife stand resolute, motionless and eternal – they are going nowhere. This concept of immobility and strength is precisely what the Egyptian power elite wished to convey. The term static (not changing, inert, motionless, stagnant) is often used to describe Egyptian art, and sculpture in particular, for this very reason.
Finally, let us look briefly at the Great Pyramids at Giza, which were built between c. 2,601-2,515 BC. Since the Egyptian people believed wholeheartedly that each Pharaoh was divine (a god to be worshipped) then we can logically conclude that to be a worker, or even a slave commanded to build these gigantic tombs, was considered a form of ritual worship.
And this is especially enlightening when we remember “once a Pharaoh, always a Pharaoh!” The ka sculptures inside the pyramids provided a ‘home’ for the soul of the Pharaoh, who continued to rule even after death.
The Great Pyramids vary in size because of this sensitivity to dead kings and their unique ability to rule from the grave.
The first was built for Khufu (ruled c. 2,589-2,566 BC); the second for Khafre (ruled c. 2,558-2,532 BC); and the third for Menkaura (also called by his Greek name, Mycerinus, one part of the couple we looked at above, Mycerinus and his Wife) (ruled c. 2,532-2,503 BC.) Grandfather Khufu has the largest pyramid. His son, Khafre, is proud owner of the second pyramid, which seems to be (by far) the largest, and his son Mycerinus has the smallest of the three.
Khafre’s pyramid looks bigger, but he dared not offend his father, whose ka would periodically return to check up on things. So Khafre had the ground raised on his own site so his pyramid gives the illusion of being much larger than his father’s, though it is actually smaller.
One more note here about the pyramids – did you know the four corners of each of the pyramids are EXACTLY at the four cardinal points? How many of us (not counting our military personnel and our orienteers) can consistently determine even the general direction in which we are headed without GPS?
Clearly, there is more to ancient Egypt than mere mummies, canopic jars and jackal-headed henchmen.
They are credited with producing the first named architect/artist (Imhotep, 3rd dynasty) and with inventing paper (they called it papyrus). When we consider that the Egyptians devised the canon of proportions for creating their ka figures, and that soon other cultures adopted this technique, only then can we begin to fully appreciate the artistic legacy of ancient Egypt.
 The terms BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, the year of our Lord) have fallen prey to contemporary thinking vis-à-vis religious sensitivity. Traditionally, these initials serve to distinguish the ancient world from the present age, using the birth of Jesus Christ as the pivotal marker of division. More recently, scholars are choosing to employ what they perceive to be a more inclusive set of initials to perform this same function – BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era.) I believe that it matters little what initials are used to describe it – our present system of dating world history still hinges upon the birth of Jesus Christ. As such, here we shall retain the traditional use of BC and AD to differentiate between the ancient world and the present (modern) era. One last thing: the term BP (Before Present) is a scientific notation, used to designate time as determined by radiocarbon dating. Archeologists use BP almost exclusively anymore to try and approximate the age of ancient artifacts.
 The Sumerians and the Egyptians both used types of proto-writing (symbols) to communicate. The people of the Indus River Valley civilization also used a form of writing around this time period (c. 3,200 BC) and recent excavations in China claim to have dated early written communications to the New Stone Age, but this is still controversial.
 In the 1950’s archeologist Kathleen Kenyon unearthed a Neolithic tower at the site of ancient Jericho, and subsequently dated the tower to about 8,000 BC, thus proving that Jericho is the oldest known community on earth. Kenyon and other archeologists have verified that, just as the Bible states in the book of Joshua, the walls of Jericho did indeed come tumbling down, though debate continues as to the exact date of destruction.
 While ancient civilizations in other parts of the world also crafted some incredible, amazing and unique objects in very successful efforts in artistry, we will not examine those works in this text, as we intend to keep our eyes on the history of Western art.
 Here, register is defined as a distinguishable band, or line, representing different subjects, story lines or scenes; there are two clear registers in this stele, the upper an image of Hammurabi receiving the law and the lower the actual written code of law.
 The Biblical tower of Babel was most likely a ziggurat. According to Genesis Chapter 11, the descendants of Noah wasted no time in reverting to lives centered not on God but rather on themselves. Led by Nimrod, they built a mud brick tower to honor themselves. God then divided all the inhabitants of the earth by confusing their language, thereby forcing everyone to scatter and live only with those with whom they could communicate.
 I don’t believe I have to get into too many details about how the ancient Egyptians mummified their dead; this aspect of Egyptian culture has been examined, defined and generally overdone countless times in American pop culture. But I would suggest here that the process of embalming was in itself a particular form of art for the Egyptians, since they thought of art less as an aesthetic and more as a means to carry them forward to the next life. Incidentally, if you are ever curious about what a particular culture really believes, what really drives them, inquire about their rituals concerning their dead. This will tell you pretty much all you need to know about any given group of people.
 Some scholars now contend that the palette might have been a temple offering with several different stories; others offer that it might be a rendering of Narmer as hunter/conqueror in order to underscore his position – an Egyptian Nimrod (?)