EleFact Friday: Elephants in Ancient Art

Last week, we discussed the significance of the elephant species in various cultures and history. Today we want to follow this line of thinking by looking into how elephants have been depicted through various art forms throughout the years. 

From prehistoric drawings to stone-age era petroglyphs, elephants were often represented in the earliest of man’s artwork. In North Africa, elephants are depicted in Paleolithic age rock art; researchers have found rock carvings from 12,000 BC that were described as “remarkably realistic” within the Libyan Tadrart Acacus. In the Erongo region of Namibia, a white elephant rock painting was found in Phillip’s Cave, thought to be created by the San people. Elephant images created by the same group in the South African Cederberg Wilderness Area have led researchers to believe that the people of the time period (3550 BC) had a deep and clear understanding of the communication, behavior, and social structure of elephant family units and “possibly developed a symbiotic relationship with elephants that goes back thousands of years.”

Elephants have a significant role in ancient art, a notable example being the Descent of the Ganges, a large 7th century Hindu scene at Mahabalipuram. This piece was created during the Pallava Dynasty and features a family of elephants, calves included, as they approach a river to drink. The relief sculpture is carved from massive granite boulders and measures approximately 80 x 40 feet. 

History continues to tell us what we already know: elephants have not only been revered for their power and wisdom, but for their beauty and the impact that they have had on human lives for thousands of years. 

Photo of Lady


  1. REPLY
    John says

    Fascinating post. Thank you!

  2. REPLY
    Melinda says

    They are amazing and incredible beings! It’s absolutely no wonder that they have been revered through the ages by artists!

  3. REPLY
    Wim says

    Lovely new knowledge and marvelous Lady!

  4. REPLY
    Carey says

    So interesting, and the Descent of the Ganges is very beautiful I’ve just looked it up in Smart History. I would love to see the rock carvings and other artworks you refer to and will look them up! The San People of course they would have known everything

  5. REPLY
    Beji says

    So incredibly interesting…just look at the live Lady!! She’s a beauty !

Post a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.