Earliest known art
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The oldest surviving art forms include small sculptures and paintings on rocks and in caves. There are very few known examples of art that date earlier than 40,000 years ago, the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic period. People often rubbed smaller rocks against larger rocks and boulders to paint pictures of their everyday life, such as hunting wild game. A mammoth sculpture found in a German cave was dated to approximately 35,000 years ago.
One of the most famous examples, the so-called Venus of Willendorf (which is now being called "Woman from Willendorf" in contemporary art history texts) is a sculpture from the Paleolithic era, which depicts a woman with exaggerated female attributes. This sculpture, carved from stone, is remarkable in its roundness instead of a flat or low-relief depiction. Early Aegean art, although it dates from a much later period, shares some of the same abstract figurative elements.
Prehistoric art objects are rare, and the context of such early art is difficult to determine. Prehistoric, by definition, refers to those cultures which have left no written records of their society. The art historian judges early pieces of art as objects in their own right, with few opportunities for comparison between contemporaneous pieces. Interpretation of such early art must be done primarily in the context of aesthetics tempered by what is known of various hunter-gatherer societies still in existence.