Glossary for AP Content Area 1: Global Prehistory

A glossary of basic terminology that is often used in discussions about global prehistoric art.

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anthropomorphic human-like
art mobilier small-scale prehistoric art that is moveable, such as the Apollo 11 Cave Stones

Apollo 11 Cave Stones, Namibia, quartzite, c. 25,500–25,300 B.C.E. Image courtesy of State Museum of Namibia.

Apollo 11 Cave Stones, Namibia, c. 25,500–25,300 B.C.E

avian something relating to birds
bicephalic two-headed figures

Bovid the Bovidae are the biological family of mammals that includes bison, African buffalo, water buffalo, antelopes, gazelles, sheep, goats, muskoxen, and domestic cattle
camelid a member of the Camelidae family, such as camels, llamas, and alpacas
dentate something that has a tooth-like or serrated edge
exogenous materials materials that originated elsewhere
Hominids a primate of family (Hominidae) that includes humans and their fossil ancestors, and also some great apes; humans evolved from an earlier specifics of hominids
Homo sapiens anatomically modern humans who evolved from an earlier species of hominids
maize also known as corn; first domesticated by Indigenous peoples in what is today Mexico c. 10,000 years ago
Melanesia refers to a region of the western Pacific that includes the islands and island groups of Fiji, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu


Mesoamerica refers to the diverse civilizations that shared similar cultural characteristics in the geographic areas comprising the modern-day countries of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica
Micronesia the region of the western Pacific referred to as Micronesia includes the Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, Kiribati, Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, and Wake Island
Middle Stone Age a period of African prehistory between the Early Stone Age and the Later Stone Age, generally considered to have begun around 280,000 years ago and ended around 50–25,000 years ago
mortars and pestles a mortar is a bowl and pestle is an object used to grind against the sides of the mortar; they are commonly made of hard material such as stone and are often used to prepare food

The Ambum Stone, c. 1500 B.C.E., greywacke, 
Ambum Valley, Enga Province, Papua New Guinea.

a pestle known as the Ambum Stone, c. 1500 B.C.E,  Papua New Guinea

Neanderthals an extinct species of humans named after the site in which their bones were first discovered—the Neander Valley in Germany; they existed between c. 120,000–35,000 years ago
Neolithic period literally means “New Stone Age,” and dates from the 6th–4th millennium B.C.E.
Neolithic Revolution dates to c. 10,00–3,000 B.C.E, and refers to when humans began to settle into communities, domesticate animals, and grow crops
nomad an individual who roams about without a fixed residence
oryx a large grazing antelope
paddle-and-anvil technique a method of smoothing and finishing the walls of hand-made pottery; the anvil is held against the inner walls while a paddle is used to shape the outer surface
Paleolithic literally means “Old Stone Age,” and dates from c. 2.5 millions years ago–10,000 B.C.E. It predates the Neolithic period
petroglyph a rock engraving in which an image has been pecked or cut into the rock

Petroglyph from Tamgaly Gorge, dating from the second half of the second millennium B.C.E. to the beginning of the 20th century, Kazakhstan

Petroglyph from Tamgaly Gorge, dating from the second half of the second millennium B.C.E.–20th century, Kazakhstan

Polynesian Triangle stretches from Hawai’i in the north to Aotearoa (New Zealand) in the south, and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in the east
potsherds fragments of pottery
prehistoric literally means before the invention of writing
sacrum the large triangular bone at the base of the spine

Camelid sacrum in the shape of a canine

Camelid sacrum in the shape of a canine

shaman a kind of priest or healer with powers involving the ability to communicate with spirits of other worlds
Shang Dynasty the earliest Chinese dynasty verified by scholars, ruling from c. 1600–1050 B.C.E.
simting bilong tumbuna literally translates as the “bones of the ancestors”; Enga term for a class of cult objects which were used as powerful ritual mechanisms where ancestors reside
slipped pottery made up of tiny particles of clay suspended in water and can be colored with iron oxide or other minerals to decorate the surface of a pot
stele a vertical stone monument or marker often inscribed with text or relief carving

Anthropomorphic stele, El-Maakir-Qaryat al-kaafa near Ha’il, Saudi Arabia, 4th millennium BCE

Anthropomorphic stele, Saudi Arabia, 4th millennium BCE

stratigraphic archaeology the study of stratification, or layers deposited one atop another over time
temper often sand or other added materials, temper reduces the elasticity of clay (how much it shrinks) and helps to avoid cracking during the firing process
Therianthrope a supernatural creature that is part animal and part human
trilithon a pair of upright stones with a lintel stone spanning their tops
twisted perspective when animal bodies are depicted in profile while we see the horns from a more frontal viewpoint

Left wall of the Hall of Bulls, Lascaux II (replica of the original cave, which is closed to the public). Original cave: c. 16,000-14,000 B.C.E., 11 feet 6 inches long

Left wall of the Hall of Bulls, Lascaux II (replica), original cave: c. 16,000-14,000 B.C.E.

* Thank you to Nadia Scott for her help preparing this glossary.