A very early example of painting inside a built structure is being reported from Syria.
Geometric polychromic painting on the interior of a built wall in a structure occupied by Hunter-Gatherers, about 11,000 years ago, in Syria. [source]
It looks like modern art, but this painting could hardly be older.
Archaeologists discovered the painted pattern of black, white, and red among the ruins of an 11,000-year-old house in northern Syria–making it the oldest wall painting ever discovered.
Researchers uncovered the prehistoric artwork while excavating the dwelling near the Euphrates River some 280 miles (480 kilometers) north of Damascus
When I first saw this report, I thought it was a typical case of European imperialistic archaeology, because of course, there are many many much older paintings on walls in Africa, Australia and Europe. But this is somewhat different, being a painting on a built wall, in a house, as opposed to a wall inside a cave.
Central African Bark Cloth
That’s cool and different. It is noted by the researchers that this painting, on a wall inside a house that is believed to have been lived in by Hunter-Gatherers (this is a pre-agricultural site) is a very unusual looking image, with its geometric patterning and striking use of color.
“There was a purpose in having the painting in what looked like a communal house, but we don’t know it,” French archaeologist and team leader Eric Coqueugniot told the Reuters news service.
Central African Bark Cloth
What struck me, however, when I first saw it is how much the patterning and use of color resembled the designs I’ve seen on Efe Pygmy and Lese bark cloths, made using traditional approaches in the Ituri Forest, Congo. Much (nearly all) of this Central African art is geometric in form, and uses similar colors, in a similar way, as that of the 11,000 year old wall. I quickly assembled a few shots of somewhat typical bark cloths that I found on Google Images, and they show what I mean. I’ve seen better examples, of course. And these images don’t give you the color scheme very well.
My use of Central African Efe and other folks of that area is not meant in any way to imply that the modern Africans are somehow ancient, primitive exemplars to be compared with 11,000 year old sites in Syria. The comparison is valid, but for other reasons.
The comparison is valid because of cultural continuity. Somewhat before 11,000 years ago, North African foragers moved into what is now the Middle East and likely established the cultures that would later “invent” local agriculture. The Syrian site here is contemporary with early “Natufian” which in turn derives, more or less, from these early North African immigrants. What happened in the Middle East and in adjoining areas of Africa since then is quite a complex history, and the region to which I’m referring above (regarding the bark cloths) is very far away from the Middle East. But, to this day, the languages spoken in the regions are related (all of the same language family) and this has been the case, most likely, for a very long period of time. The language in which the earliest Near Eastern texts are written is also in this family. Indeed, a Pygmy, and Arab and a Hebrew-speaking Jew all use the same exact word when they refer to their mother or their father. (And I don’t mean “words that sound like mamamama … the noises babies make” … I mean the same exact word, like you would never confuse them.) There are other overlaps of course.
So, what I’m saying is this: If there was a black-red-white geometric tradition in, say, Central Germany or ancient Turkey or whatever, archaeologists would point out the similarity between that tradition and this new find, but be cautious about making a real link. Since most archaeologists (other than those of us who have worked in Central Africa) are unaware of the tradition I refer to here, I’m making the point: Interesting similarities, but I’d be careful about making too much of a connection….