Houghton Mifflin Social Studies
A Message of Ancient Days

Understanding Primary Sources:
The Cave Paintings

Objective: Students research early human cave paintings and write a story from the point of view of a long-ago painter.

What You Need:

Suggested Time:
4 hours total over 2-3 days

Building Background:
Review with students the location and origin of European, South African, and South American cave paintings. Talk about the role they played in early peoples' lives. Tell students they will closely examine specific cave paintings.

What To Do:

1. Distribute The Cave Paintings worksheet. Tell students to fill it out as they research the cave paintings, and that they will need the information from it for the second part of the activity. Send students to the library to find books and articles. One possibility is The Cave of Lascaux by Mario Ruspoli, which thoroughly documents the work found in that French cave. Another general source is the History of Art by H.W. Janson, which has a good essay on both the images used in the art, and meaning of their location. You can also look at our Unit 2 Bibliography for other resources students might use for information.

2. Allow students time to do the research and fill out The Cave Paintings worksheet. When students have finished, have them choose one image from a book or Internet site and spend several minutes studying the image.

3. Tell each student to use the image and the worksheet to write a story from the painter's point of view. Encourage students to be creative and to include both information from their research and what their chosen images suggests. Review with the class what the stories can include: a description of the image; why the painter is choosing a specific location (such as the ceiling, wall, an area close to the cave entrance or not, whether the painting is part of a larger mural or not); what the image means to the painter; what the story is behind his or her choice of that image; if the image is part of a ceremony, and if so, what kind; what the painter is thinking about while creating the image; who else might be involved in the art, and in what way.

4. Have students share their completed stories with the class by displaying them around the classroom, combining them into books and exchanging them, or having individuals read them aloud.

Ask volunteers to tell you why they chose their image and what they liked most about it. Encourage them to discuss what they learned about their painting and how they obtained the information.


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