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Category Archives: rock art

Grotte Chauvet’s Aurignacian dates strongly questioned

The famous rock art of the Cave of Lions (Grotte Chauvet, Ardèche) seems now not to be of such an early date as was claimed by Valladas et al. in 2001 but rather from the Gravettian and Solutrean periods, with more solid dates between 26,000 to 18,000 BP.
Jean Combier & Guy Jouve, New investigations into the cultural and stylistic identity of the Chauvet cave and its radiocarbon dating. L’Anthropologie 2014. Pay per view → LINK [doi:10.1016/j.anthro.2013.12.001]

Abstract


The discovery of Chauvet cave, at Vallon-Pont-d’Arc (Ardèche), in 1994, was an important event for our knowledge of palaeolithic parietal art as a whole. Its painted and engraved figures, thanks to their number (425 graphic units), and their excellent state of preservation, provide a documentary thesaurus comparable to that of the greatest sites known, and far beyond what had already been found in the group of Rhône valley caves (Ardèche and Gard). But its study – when one places it in its natural regional, cultural and thematic framework – makes it impossible to see it as an isolated entity of astonishing precocity. This needs to be reconsidered, and the affinities that our research has brought to light are clearly incompatible with the very early age which has been attributed to it. And if one extends this examination to the whole of the Franco-Cantabrian domain, the conclusion is inescapable: although Chauvet cave displays some unique characteristics (like every decorated cave), it belongs to an evolved phase of parietal art that is far removed from the motifs of its origins (known from art on blocks and on shelter walls dated by stratigraphy to the Aurignacian, in France and Cantabrian Spain). The majority of its works are therefore to be placed, quite normally, within the framework of the well-defined artistic creations of the Gravettian and Solutrean. Moreover, this phase of the Middle Upper Palaeolithic (26,000–18,000) coincides with a particularly intensive and diversified local human occupation, unknown in earlier periods and far less dense afterwards in the Magdalenian. A detailed critique of the treatment of the samples subjected to AMS radiocarbon dating makes it impossible to retain the very early age (36,000 cal BP) attributed by some authors to the painted and engraved figures of Chauvet cave.

 

Korean petroglyphs at risk by reservoir

A group of very beautiful South Korean petroglyphs that seem to represent whale hunting and are dated some 6000 years ago are being damaged by a water reservoir that provides water for the city of Ulsan. 

The Bangudae petroglyphs, discovered in 1971, are submerged under water seasonally, raising great controversy in the East Asian country. It seems that even President Park is greatly concerned about them, something not too usual in a politician, while the Cultural Heritage Administration is demanding measures to protect the ancient rock art, namely to keep water levels low enough. 
However water utilities claim that it is impossible to meet such demands while providing water to the seventh largest South Korean city. The Ulsan city government is proposing to build a wall around the petroglyphs in order to protect them while keeping the water levels, this however would cause environmental damage to the area, disqualifying the site for UNESCO World Heritage protection schemes.
Source: cinabrio.over-blog[en/es] (incl. several pictures and press articles).
 
 

Askondo cave art is 25,000 years old

The rock art of Askondo cave (Mañaria, Biscay, Basque Country) has been dated to c. 25,000 years ago. The materials used for the artworks (red paint and engraving) cannot be dated directly but a bone fragment encrusted in the wall provided an age of c. 23,800 years BP (C14AMS) belonging therefore to the Gravettian period. 
The cave of Askondo (← aitz-ondo = near the rock) was believed to be a destroyed site but recent archaeological research has shown the opposite: that there is a lot to be researched in that cave, which has a surprising sedimentary depth of at least 6 m and that has already become, thanks to its artwork, in the third more important Paleolithic site of Biscay, after Santimamiñe and Arenaza caves.
Source: Bizkaia.Net.
 

Australian Burrup Peninsula’s rock art is 30,000 years old

The open air engravings have managed to survive thanks to the extremely low erosion rates produced by the hardness of the rock combined with the local climate. 

The petroglyphs have been dated using the isotope beryllium-10. Based on current evidence, the archaeologists say, the occupation of the peninsula cannot be dated to before c. 42,000 years ago. 

Source: Australian Geographic.

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2013 in Australia, Oceania, rock art, Upper Paleolithic

 

Rock art from Baja California dates to c. 9,000 years ago, maybe even older

Catalan researchers from the IPHES have been studying the impressive rock art of the caves of Baja California Sur (Mexico) and concluded that some of the art is from c. 8-9,000 years ago. However contextual dates are sometimes older, of c. 10-11,000 years ago. 

Source: El Universal[es], which has many more photos.
For decades it was believed, following the pioneer work of Clement Meighan, that the art was from the 13th century CE. However in the 1980s the more in-depth research by Catalan scientists revealed that it is in fact from much older dates, at least 5,000 years ago. These days it has been revealed that they are even older in some cases. 
The rock art is distributed by many areas of Baja California Sur, very especially the Sierra de San Francisco, which alone hosts more than 250 sites. These sites were often occupied through millennia, until the 18th century CE in some cases. Even later they have been used as shelters for sheep, however nowadays they do enjoy state and UNESCO protection. 
The most outstanding cave, La Pintada (the painted one), appears to have indications of astronomical knowledge. In the words of Viñas Vallverdú:
In the particular case of La Pintada there are many markings of astronomical type, spots where it is indicated that the Sun illuminates in certain time of the year, signaling a date in their calendar. That way they knew that, when the Sun hit one of those marks, it was time to collect the pitahaya or that the rain period was nearing.
The research is part of an international project by IPHES and the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) of Mexico, which is surveying the prehistory of the North American federation. 
The study will be published as the doctoral thesis of lead researcher Ramón Viñas Vallverdú (IPHES).

Source: El Universal[es] (includes a very beautiful photo-gallery).

 

Submerged rock art from Papua

In the World-famous diving paradise of Raja Ampat, just West of the Bird’s Head peninsula of Papua (aka New Guinea), there is more than one of the greatest biodiversity areas of the planet. It has been found recently that off the shore of Misool, one of the major islands of the archipelago, there is also abundance of beautifully conserved Paleolithic murals.

The now submerged rock art is found in 13 different sites (so far), most of them sharing an intriguing pattern of location:
  • a large and rather high cliff;
  • a cavity, cave, overhang or hole around the foot of the cliff;
  • a main coloured (red-yellow to red-brown) wide strip pouring out, or reaching down to the cavity;
  • a (facultative) step-bank (coral or karst platform) at the foot. 
The art was obviously above the water level until the sea flooded all that area at the end of the Ice Age. 
Sources: World Archaeological Congress, Stone Pages’ Archaeonews.

Update (Feb 24): after being down for days, causing perplexity among some readers and myself, the WAC source site is up again. Exactly as it was four days ago. Just in case this time I’ll upload the images here. 

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2013 in Oceania, Paleolithic, Papua, rock art

 

Large concentration of decorated stones found in the Scottish Highlands

An area holding a dense concentration of stones with engraved “cup marks” has been unveiled near Evanton, Scotland. The discoverer, Douglas Scott, has mapped the 28 decorated rocks and found that they are aligned with the rising and setting of Sun and Moon. 
He has also found a wide circular ditched enclosure, with a small central standing stone next to a cupmarked stone, which suggested it was the remains of a henge. The entrance of this enclosure aligns with the winter solstice sunrise.
He believes that this was a major ritual center between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age. 

 

New rock art findings of India

A new rock art site has been found by the Archaeological Survey of India on the Satpura mountain range, near Batul, at the Maharastra-Madhya Pradesh border. The site includes nothing less that 71 rock shelters with paintings and engravings dating from c. 12,000 years ago (Late Upper Paleolithic) to recent times.


Decors comprise petroglyph’s in various forms, such as engravings,
bruising, pecking and pictographs in various colours, viz red, various
shades of red, white, black and green. The pictographs or paintings
usually illustrate human, animal, bird, tree and abstract geometric
figures and are depicted by stick figures, outlines, solid and X-ray
figures. he engravings usually exhibit elements of natural world as well
as abstract themes. The decorated shelters are spread in an area of
approximately 40 square kilometres, Sahu said. 

No pictures are available.
Source: Indian Express (via Pileta).
 

"Megadrought" may have affected NW Australia some 5500 years ago

Depictions of the Wondjina rain spirits
(CC by Whinging Pom)
Researchers have detected an apparent “megadrought” affecting at least the region of Kimberley (NW Australia), which hosts some of the most important collections of Aboriginal rock art and may have been one of the first inhabited regions of the island-continent.
The drought may explain a change in artistic style between the Gwion (or Bradshaw) style and the Wondjina one, more modern. Memory of the drought persists in the legends from the Dream Time of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia.
Hamish McGowan et al., Evidence of ENSO* mega-drought triggered collapse of prehistory Aboriginal society in northwest Australia. GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 39, 2012. Pay per viewLINK [doi:10.1029/2012GL053916]
Abstract
The Kimberley region of northwest Australia contains one of the World’s largest collections of rock art characterised by two distinct art forms; the fine featured anthropomorphic figures of the Gwion Gwion or Bradshaw paintings, and broad stroke Wandjina figures. Luminescence dating of mud wasp nests overlying Gwion Gwion paintings has confirmed an age of at least 17,000 yrs B.P. with the most recent dates for these paintings from around the mid-Holocene (5000 to 7000 yrs B.P.). Radiocarbon dating indicates that the Wandjina rock art then emerged around 3800 to 4000 yrs B.P. following a hiatus of at least 1200 yrs. Here we show that a mid-Holocene ENSO forced collapse of the Australian summer monsoon and ensuing mega-drought spanning approximately 1500 yrs was the likely catalyst of this change in rock art. The severity of the drought we believe was enhanced through positive feedbacks triggered by change in land surface condition and increased aerosol loading of the atmosphere leading to a weakening or failure of monsoon rains. This confirms that pre-historic aboriginal cultures experienced catastrophic upheaval due to rapid natural climate variability and that current abundant seasonal water supplies may fail again if significant change in ENSO occurs. 
See also article at Past Horizons (h/t Pileta). 
_________________________________________________
 
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Posted by on December 13, 2012 in Australia, climate, Epipaleolithic, rock art

 

Alert: destruction of 8000 year-old engravings in Morocco by Fundamentalists – government denies

The Amazigh League for Human Rights denounced the destruction of several Neolithic engravings in Toubkal National Park, south of Marakesh. Among the damaged art is said to be a depiction of the Sun as a god. They date from c. 6000 BCE.

Source and more details: BBC (h/t Stone Pages’ Archaeonews).

The damaged relic (source)

Update: the Government of Morocco denies the claim with strange wording

The Moroccan authorities have denied the claim of a vandalism against a solar engraving attributed to Fundamentalists. According to an AFP report:


“This kind of incident, contrary to our values, cannot take place in
Morocco,” it said, adding that an investigation carried out with local
and regional authorities had showed that the claims were unfounded.

But
such sites “can suffer, like elsewhere, the effects of natural and even
human degradation, sometimes through vandalism and trafficking.”

The wording is at the very least strange: the logic does not seem sound (can’t happen because of our values) and the suggestion of other reasons for the same vandalism are at the very least suspicious. 
My reading is that the Moroccan Ministry of Culture wishes to deny all kind of militant Salafist activism but that, subtly, acknowledges the destruction, attributing it to mystery causes (either erosion or mindless vandalism) rather than Fundamentalism. 
Not too credible. 

Update (Oct 25):

Dalouh (see comments) has been gathering some more info on the matter from Arabic language sources in Facebook and it would seem that the locals chased out the fundamentalist vandals preventing greater damage, still:

Above: damage stone, below: original

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2012 in Morocco, North Africa, rock art, vandalism