The Nasher Sculpture Center is presenting a must-see, jaw-dropping, simply stunning exhibition through April 28. First Sculpture: Handaxe to Figure Stone is the first ever museum exhibition to present ancient handaxes and figure stones as works of art. Proposed by American artist, Tony Berlant, who has amassed a large collection of Paleolithic stones, research for the exhibition lasted nearly a decade and brought in notable archeologists, anthropologists, historians, neuroscientists and artists from around the world.
The oldest artifact is a large pebble found in South Africa - The Makapansgat Pebble - is the earliest known example of a hominin (our pre-historic ancestors) recognizing and collecting a found object that resembled a face, demonstrating a capacity for symbolic thinking. But what’s astounding is this artifact is estimated to be 2.3 million years old!
The word “artifact” comes from two Latin words – arte or “by skill” and factum or “to make”. So, when the Neanderthals began shaping stones into tools, they essentially were the very first makers. And those makers evolved from making just simply utilitarian tools, they began to develop an aesthetic intent.
As Dr. Naama Goren-Inbar, a professor of archeology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, pointed out in her talk at the Nasher’s 360 Speaker Series, artistic process is everywhere, including planning, spatial thinking, contingency and cooperation. Archeologists have been able to determine that select handaxes were made by the same individual. Pre-historic man discovered that tools could be both functional and beautiful.