Thursday, January 9, 2014

History mystery: Baffling Ancient Cave Paintings

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Paintings on the walls and ceilings of caves have been discovered which are referred to the prehistoric origin, some of which are found in Spain and France and the earliest art in Europe which was found in Cantabria, northern Spain in El Castillo cave are the oldest known art found in this region. Around 340 caves have been discovered in Spain and France. The exact purpose of these paintings are unknown and evidence indicate that they were not just decorations for living area since there seemed to be no signs of ongoing habitation in these caves.

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Moreover these were located in areas which were not easily accessible and some are of the opinion that these cave paintings may have been a way of communicating with the other folks, while still others presume that these were used for religious or other ceremonial purposes. The next oldest known cave is the Chauvet Cave in France where the painting dates earlier than 30,000 BCE as per the radiocarbon dating. The age of the painting was a controversial issue since the system of radiocarbon dating could produce misleading results if they were tampered with samples of new or old material and these cave paintings were littered with debris for a long period of time. With the help of technology, there was a possibility to date the painting by sampling the pigment and the torch marks on the walls to get some insight and indicate chronology as in the case of the Spanish cave of Cueva de las Monedas where the reindeer depicted, places the art in the last Ice Age. The Cueva de El Castillo also known as the Cave of the Castle is an archaeological site located in Puente Viesgo within the complex of the Caves of Monte Castillo in the province of Cantabria Spain, containing the oldest cave art and are presumed to be around 40,000 years old.

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The discovery of this cave was made in 1903 by Hermilio Alcalde del Rio, a Spanish archaeologist and pioneer in the study of early cave paintings of Cantabria, indicating that the entrance of the cave was much smaller in the past which had been enlarged due to archeological excavations that were carried out. Through these entrances one could access the various rooms in which were extensive sequences of images together with other markings and paintings presumed to be from the Lower Paleolithic to the Bronze Age including the Middle Ages. It is believed that there are more than 150 figures including the engravings of deer which have been painted in charcoal and read ochre on the ceilings and walls in various chambers of the caves. Most of these paintings are of simple hand stencils, with red disks and club shapes though there are instances of outlines of animals. Paintings of many other animals were also found in these caves including the dog and the remains of cave art are found along its depth of 18 meters from the Acheulean period to the Bronze Age where most of the oldest paintings are of 45 hand prints.

Along with these, discoveries of around 50 symbols together with 180 depictions of animals especially goats are also found. Besides these, there are fine drawings of deer, bison horses, mammoths as well as dogs and while the black paintings belong to the middle period, red mammoth colored paintings seems to be the recent ones. Cave paintings found on the Arnhem Land plateau, in Australia, have megafauna, believed to have been extinct 40,000 years ago, thus making this art another among the oldest list of paintings. Nawarla Gabarnmang, another Australian site which has been radiocarbon dated 28,000 years, has charcoal drawings, making it the oldest site in Australia and in the world and evidence of reliable date has been obtained for it. In most of the cave art, no painting of complete human figure are found, though there seems to be one partial Venus figure attached to an incomplete pair of legs and above it, is a bison head in contact with it.

Few panel of red ochre hand prints together with hand stencils made from spitting pigment on hands pressed against the surface of the cave are found. Other abstract markings like dots and lines are also found all over the caves. It is believed that the artist who designed this unique art used techniques which were rarely found in any other cave art. Two unidentifiable images have also been found which have a vague avian or a butterfly shape where its combination has led some prehistoric art and culture students to presume that there seemed to be some ritual, or magical aspect to these paintings. Most of these paintings seemed to be done after the walls had been scraped and cleared of concretions and debris providing a smooth and lighter surface for the artist to work on.

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