a global initiative to explore and preserve humanity's oldest stories

Butler Wash Panel on the San Juan River, Utah.

A global initiative to explore and preserve humanity's oldest stories

Recording our passage through life is basic human instinct. A handprint on the cave wall, an etching on a rock, are signs that “we were here,” signs that echo down through the ages. This echo is the enduring power of art. 
 
Art defines our species. The creation of art over 130,000 years ago was humanity’s first true innovation. But all over the globe, the earliest human art works are increasingly threatened with destruction. To date there has been no unified effort to record and preserve this fragile legacy. 

36,000 year old paintings of Chauvet, France36,000 year old paintings of Chauvet, France

photographing 36,000 year old cave paintings in France

The Ancient Art Archive explores all six continents where prehistoric paintings and engravings exist in situ. With the help of leading archeologists and art historians, the Archive identifies the most artistically, historically and culturally significant works. Using photography, 3D modeling, and virtual reality technology, we record each piece in a way that captures its power and beauty. The Archive allows users - who may never be able to visit these far flung places -  to experience that work as if they were standing in front of it. The Archive allows the deep past to move and inspire us across time and beyond language. 
 
Paintings and engravings played a critical role in the pre-agricultural world, and the Archive focuses on this genre of creative work. During that time of early human development, art was the glue that bound increasingly complex societies. It helped us cooperate. It built a common visual language, a vocabulary of symbols and ideas still in use today. Art helped provide us with intellectual advantages in a dangerous world inhabited by stronger, faster creatures. Making art remains the one behavior that truly separates humans from animals. 

"Most people don't know that this legacy is severely threatened..."

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Archaic Southwest Polychrome, Arizona

Today most of us are unaware of the beauty, and sometimes even the existence, of the oldest art. Most people don’t know that this legacy is severely threatened by climate change, modern development, religious intolerance, and even tourism. These threats are real and immediate. Images that have existed for 40,000 years could disappear tomorrow with the careless touch of a hand. In our lifetime we stand to lose some of the world’s oldest paintings and engravings. 
 
The Ancient Art Archive pre-empts this process of loss. The images, video and dimensional models contained within the Archive help ensure the preservation of our shared history of creativity and innovation, and they also help promote education and conservation efforts linked to prehistoric sites. Through modern technological platforms, art that would in many cases disappear can be saved and presented to new international audiences. The Archive project is scalable, modular, and it permits contributors from many locations to add images and information. Our goal is to become a living, evolving visual library that can speak across generations. 
 
The Ancient Art Archive is the story of humanity - told for the first time in one place and available to all. 

The Horse Panel of Chauvet, France