Who ARTed: Weekly Art History for All Ages

Fun Fact Friday - The Apollo 11 Stones

April 1, 2022

The Apollo 11 stones were named after the famous NASA mission though completely unrelated. W.E. Wendt heard news of the successful moon landing over his shortwave radio and decided to name the cave “Apollo 11” . The cave site had been a long standing shelter used by ancient humans. It is hard to say exactly how far back it goes. One of the problems with prehistoric people is that they didn’t leave us calendars and records marking the dates they created their works or artist’s statements explaining those pieces. Fossil records indicate that homosapiens came on to the scene around 100,000 years ago. Carbon dating indicates that the Apollo 11 stones were buried somewhere around 25,000BCE. When they were discovered, they were the oldest known pieces of African art and among the oldest bits of evidence of human artistic expression. The stone fragments were from a stone slab roughly the size of a human hand. On the stone, there is a creature often described as a therianthrope, a mythical creature that is part human and part animal. The drawing appears to have the body of a cat, legs of a human and on the head, there are trace elements of horns slightly curved reminiscent of an Oryx, a large antelope. This work suggests that in the middle stone age, there may have been mythology or even complex religious belief systems. The reason this is considered to be so significant is that it indicates that hunter-gatherers in Africa during the middle stone age were not only physically similar to modern humans but also behaviorally modern. They used art for creative expression with rituals and customs. Symbolic thought is really the capacity that makes humans able to communicate. It is why I consider art to be our greatest development as it makes all communication and advancement possible. The Apollo 11 stones demonstrated that early humans possessed that capacity long before what was previously believed.

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