» Home > In the News

Palaeolithic Ponderings

15 May 2012

At www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/05/2012/layer-by-layer-the-upp… … a study of ancient stratigraphy in the caves of Mas D'Azil in France has revealed a flood layer – associated with the Arize River. Sand and pebbles were deposited during the last glaciation – with evidence of human activity below and above the intrusive layer. Most of the pre-flood level is attributed to the Aurignacian culture people, around 35,000 years ago. L:ater, the Magdalenian culture people put in an appearance, dated around 14,500 years ago (between the end of the Ice Age and the onset of the Younger Dryas event). The research is still ongoing but the flood layer is not pinned down explicitly but seems to mark the end of the Ice Age (or somewhere in that time span) 18 to 16 thousand years ago. The cave was also occupied in the Early Holocene by Mesolithic hunters, the Azilian culture people (between 10,000 and 7,500 years ago).

At www.stuff.co.nz/science/6922777/Ancient-cave-genitalia-engravings-found/ – going back to as early as the Chauvet cave paintings. Why such fertility images should be common to one stie and not another is an unknown but as usual it is interpreted in a series line of progression – and forced into the situation it must, for art(ful) reasons, be earlier than Chaeveyt – but was it?

At http://phys.org/print256287928.html … the Neolithic farming culture had reached Cyprus by 90-00BC, it appears, contemporary with its appearance in the Near East (a PNAS paper, May 7th). They arrived with a fully developed technology focussed around farming and husbandry and yet the Neolithic is not supposed to have begun prior to 9500 years ago. In addition, they must have arrived in boats as Cyprus is an island quite a distance from nearby Syria and Anatolia. This seems to suggest boat travel was also developed somewhat earlier than the consensus view of steady progression and evolution of human culture. What was going on that we don't know about?

At www.eurekalert.org/pub_release/2012-05/nyu-ade051012.php … Aurignacian people painted and engraved a block of limestone in what had been a rock shelter, now collapsed, occupied by Ice Age reindeer hunters, with animals and geometric patterns, some 37,000 years ago. These paintings, it is argued, are even earlier than those at Chauvet cave (both occur in southern France). The difference is that at Chauvet cave the art is deep under the ground while the new ones, at Abri Castanet, are associated with everyday life. The presence of a fireplace or hearth, and what is described as workshops, where tools were made (from reindeer horns, stone and bone) are designated as the kind of occupation associated with daily chores whereas activity in the bowels of the Earth smacks of something more ritual in nature – or does it? Similar painted rocks of the Aurignacian have been found in southern Germany and northern Italy, as well as elsewhere in southern France.

At http://archaeology.about.com/od/cterms/g/chauvet.htm?nl;=1 … the cave paintings at Chauvet are genrally dated to around 32,000 years ago. The cave, at the entrance to a gorge, extends horizontally 1650 feet and consists of two main chambers separated by a narrow hall way (not a low passage). Some 420 different paintings have been recorded and include realistic representations of reindeer, horses, auroch, rhinoceros, bison, lions, cave bears etc as well as abstract dot assemblages (the symbolism of which is obscure). The paintings, after being dated by various means, have upset previous ideas on the chronology of Ice Age artwork. It was assumed art developed stage by stage, with more primitive art at the beginning of the chronology and the more sophisticated stuff being done much later. This somewhat naive chronology ignores the ability of individual artists, or schools of artists, but never the less it prevailed. The problem for the chronology, painfully worked out by specialists in artwork, is that Chauvet comes at the very beginning of the Late Palaeolithic – when art is thought to have first appeared as a feature of human activity. Chauvet art bursts on to the scene fully developed and drawn in a realistic style – lions look like lions, and they are depicted as a pride of lions, just as they occur on the African plains today. As a result of this some specialists have sought to redate the Chauvet paintings, moving them closer to the Magdalenians and Solutreans, people of the Late Glacial period. However, cave bears were extinct by 29,000 years ago, it is thought, and the onset of the Late Glacial Maximum would seem to suggest lions and savannah like conditions could not have existed at the same time as an ice sheet a couple of hundred miles to the north. True, there are Siberian tigers in the modern world, but Siberia is a huge area of land with a mixture of climate belts and they exist in a habitat quite unlike the bitter cold of the Late Glacial Maximum. Siberian tigers are a remnant population from when the region had a better climate – much like crocodiles surviving in water holes in the Sahara. What Chauvet indicates is that the Ice Age climate around 40 to 30 thousand years ago was relatively warm in western Europe, a so called inter stadial period, as it proceeds the obviously much colder Late Glacial Maximum. Inter stadials are very interesting interludes. How did the lions and rhinoceros move from stadial to interstadial and manage to survive as a species? In addition, rhinoceros lived on in China deep into the Holocene, as well as tigers and other exotic animals. Did the animals of Chauvet migrate eastwards when the cold weather descended and was the climate of East Asia more salubrious in the Late Glacial period than credited at the moment? 

Skip to content