Creating visual art is one of the defining characteristics of the human species, but the archaeological evidence means that we have limited information on the origin and evolution of this aspect of human culture. The components of art include colour, pattern and the reproduction of visual likeness. The earliest known evidence of ‘artistic behaviour’ is of human body decoration, including skin colouring with ochre and the use of beads, although both may have had functional origins. Zig-zag and criss-cross patterns, nested curves and parallel lines are the earliest known patterns to have been created separately from the body.
The human love of body decoration also involves the application of colour. Modern cosmetics and tattoos have a long history, probably originating with the use of ochre for colouring the skin hundreds of millennia ago. Body decoration is likely to have been an important precursor to the creation of art separate from the body. The use of colour to decorate skin, bones and beads suggests enjoyment of form and colour. The practice of piercing teeth, shells and bones, and stringing them, singly or multiply, to make a pendant or necklace is the oldest known form of personal decoration after body painting.