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Why Did People Cave Paint? A Guide for Keystage 2

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

If you've seen images of Cave Paintings, you'll know that they're fascinating pieces of art, created up to 64,000 years ago, featuring images of hand stencilling, animals and tasks of everyday Stone Age life.

You can find out more about what was in these paintings and how they were made in our article Cave Paintings: All You Need To Know.

But one important question still goes unanswered - why did people paint things on cave walls in the first place?

Of course, we've no way to know for certain why Stone Age people made cave paintings. Fortunately, there are plenty of experts who have theories about the reason why (a good thing too, otherwise I'd have nothing to write about here!)

Theory 1: Magic

Perhaps people painted images of animals to make some magic happen. Maybe it was believed that painting an animal allowed you to control or influence the creature in some way. For example, say your tribe hadn't spotted any Woolly Rhino herds to hunt for many months. If you painted an image of a herd of Woolly Rhinos then abracadabra - a gang of the mighty beasts would soon rock up.

By David Stanley

Theory 2: To Communicate

There was no writing in the Stone Age but perhaps cave paintings had a similar function. Maybe the painter wanted to pass on tips to someone else? This could explain why cave paintings often show hunting; perhaps the artist was trying to share some top hunting techniques to an enthusiastic beginner.

Or perhaps it was a way of documenting their hunting expeditions, a bit like how we write about our day in a diary.

Theory 3: To make the cave look nice

Today we like to decorate our homes, spending hours with a tin of dulux to make our homes look beautiful. Perhaps the same is true of Stone Age people who lived in caves, maybe they just wanted to spruce the place up a bit and impress their neighbours?

By Leonardo Ramos

Theory 4: It's fun!

We love creating art today, people enjoy spending their free time painting, colouring and drawing. Doing so makes us feel good. Well, we're really not that different from our ancient ancestors, maybe they just wanted to have some fun painting too?

What do you think? We'd love to hear your theories.


Now put your knowledge to the test by creating your own Cave Painting with our Stone Age Craft Activities.


If you want to learn more about the Stone Age from the comfort of your classroom, then you'll definitely want Imagining History to bring their 'A Handy Guide to Survive the Stone Age' Interactive workshop to your school.

Our Award-Winning sessions combine role-play, storytelling, demonstrations and drama and performance to bring history to life for your students.

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