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The culture of the cave people.

Deep in the heart of the earth where the magic is very strong, a young man, by the light of a torch, strokes the charred end of a stick along the cave wall. A bison springs to life. Dipping a piece of fur into the earth-red pigment, he dabs color into the form. He has captured the bison's likeness ... thus, he has captured its spirit. Surely, without its spirit the bison will be easily trapped tomorrow during the hunt.

Other animals, painted in the past, jump from the walls as the torchlight flickers ... the woolly mammoth ... the reindeer ... sacred art. It is the way of the cave people.

So read the invitation to The Culture of the Cave People, a comprehensive look at prehistoric human life, produced and performed by the fifth graders and TASC (Targeted Alternative Strategies Class) students of Palmetto Elementary School.

The art of a people is a reflection of their culture. To better understand the art of early man, my students and I delved into their day to-day lives, concentrating chiefly on the Cro-Magnon who lived 15,000-30,000 years ago. In addition to these cave paintings we were also interested in other early art media such as carved figurines and early basketry and jewelry.

We wanted to learn how archaeologists and others gleaned the knowledge we have today about these fascinating individuals: people so rugged, yet exhibiting such sensitivity in their art.

Originally my students and I had planned to transform the hallway outside the artroom into a prehistoric cave complete with early paintings and drawings. As we began to discuss the cave's construction, however, our enthusiasm took over and a decision was made to expand our project into one that would allow us to express to others (thereby reinforcing in ourselves) all we had learned about early man.

The resulting production required not only the hallway, but the artroom, the grounds outside the building, and a nearby classroom in another building. The program was presented to our fourth grade students with a special presentation given by fifth graders and TASC students from another school. Third and fourth graders viewed a modified version of the program.

Each of the approximately 125 fifth graders and TASC students had a role in the presentation. They acted as cave people, student group guides, junior archaeologists, assistants in the hands-on activities, or members of the film crew. Their classroom teachers supervised each activity area.

The program began outside the art building. Groups of five students gathered into a double circle where they were welcomed by the Shaman of a clan of cave people. At the conclusion of the Shaman's introduction, each group of five was led by student guides to a separate activity area. Every fifteen minutes, students rotated to a new activity until all five activities were experienced. The activities were as follows.

1. The Cro-Magnon Village

Cave people discussed and demonstrated the beginnings of basketry, weaving, ceramics and jewelry. Painting and drawing tools were created from natural materials as was paint. The discovery of fire and the role it played in man's progress toward civilization was also discussed. In a prehistoric cave with cave paintings, cave women discussed the subjects prehistoric people chose for their art and the magical significance of the cave.

2. An Archaeological Dig

Working with an attending archaeologist, students unearthed an animal skeleton plus other bones, pottery pieces and buried caches of rice. Each student and a partner then recorded the location of their finds on a graph of the dig area.

3. Creating an Arrowhead

A flintknapper discussed and demonstrated how arrowheads were created out of flint and used as primitive tools.

4. Cave Jewelry

Students created jewelry out of shells, feathers and small bones and wove bracelets out of palm fronds to take home.

5. Cave Flicks

A short film on fossils and artifacts and how scientists learn from them was shown, followed by slides of cave paintings from Lascaux, France and Altamira, Spain.

Each group completed the rotation at the same time and regathered in the double circle for the Shaman's conclusion of the program.

The time and energy put into this project was considerable but the payoff was tenfold in the knowledge we all gained. I did not design this program for the students, we designed it together. It was particularly rewarding to be able to give my students such free reign to develop their ideas. Needless to say, such a project could not have been done without the full cooperation and support of Palmetto Elementary School's administrators who recognize the learning opportunities inherent in a strong art education curriculum.

Immediately following this program, I was beset by the attending fourth graders who wanted to know if they could be involved in a project like The Culture of the Cave People. Those students, now fifth graders, are presently working on a production of their own involving theatrics, visuals, and hands-on activities. We are finding it very exciting. Perhaps you will read about it in a future issue!

Kathy R. Cocciolone is the Art Teacher at Palmetto Elementary School, Palmetto, Florida.
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Author:Cocciolone, Kathy R.
Publication:School Arts
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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