From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
In the history of art, prehistoric art is all art produced in preliterate, prehistorical cultures beginning somewhere in very late geological history, and generally continuing until that culture either develops writing or other methods of record-keeping, or it makes significant contact with another culture that has.
The very earliest human artifacts showing evidence of workmanship with an artistic purpose are a subject of some debate; it is clear that such workmanship existed by 40,000 years ago in the Upper Palaeolithic era. From the Upper Palaeolithic through the Mesolithic, cave paintings and portable art like figurines and beads predominated, with decorative figured workings also seen on some utilitarian objects. In the Neolithic evidence of early pottery appeared, as did sculpture and the construction of megaliths. Early rock art also first appeared in the Neolithic. The advent of metalworking in the Bronze Age brought another increase in mediums used for art, an increase in stylistic diversity, and the creation of objects that did not have any obvious function other than art. It also saw the development in some areas of artisans, a class of people specializing in the production of art, as well as early writing systems. By the Iron Age, civilizations with writing had arisen from Ancient Egypt to Ancient China.
Many indigenous peoples from around the world continued to produce artistics works distinctive to their geographic area and culture, until exploration and commerce brought record-keeping methods to them. Some cultures, notably the Maya civilization, independently developed writing during the time they flourished, which was then later lost. These cultures are generally considered prehistoric, especially if their writing systems have not been deciphered.