February 23, 2024
How a furnishings conservator helped crack the code of Ice Age cave artwork

As It Occurs6:39How a furnishings conservator helped crack the code of Ice Age cave artwork

Scientists say they’ve begun to decipher the symbols on Ice Age cave artwork  — and it began with a hunch by an enthusiastic layperson. 

Ben Bacon, a London furnishings conservator and novice anthropologist, was pictures of paleolithic cave drawings when he began to note patterns within the dots, strains and different symbols which are usually scrawled over depictions of animals. 

“I am afraid I am barely obsessive, and as soon as I began these, I checked out increasingly,” Bacon instructed As It Occurs host Nil Köksal. “You do change into fairly absorbed on this. It’s extremely stunning.”

Bacon teamed up with lecturers at Durham College and College School London, in addition to two different hobbyist archaeologists in his circle, to take a more in-depth look. 

The researchers recognized the markings as a “proto-writing” system, used to trace details about the depicted animals — together with their migration routes and mating cycles.

Their findings — revealed within the Cambridge Archaeological Journal — counsel that individuals who lived some 20,000 years in the past had a classy and sensible manner of speaking essential details about the animals they hunted.

‘A little bit of a revelation’

All of it started when Bacon was poring by pictures of cave artwork, and seen that a number of completely different drawings of fish had been accompanied by both three bars or three dots.

“I assumed it should be a communication system of some kind,” he stated. “Then I regarded to see if anybody had truly discovered what these marks meant. And apparently they hadn’t, which was a little bit of a revelation.”

A bald man in glasses sits at a desk poring over books with a pencil and a magnifying glass.
Ben Bacon is a London furnishings conservator who helped decipher the symbols on Ice Age cave artwork. (Durham College)

His work piqued the curiosity of  Paul Pettitt, an archaeologist at Durham College in England, and co-author of the research. He instructed BBC Information he is “glad he took it significantly” when Bacon reached out.

Pettitt introduced the subject to his longtime collaborator, Durham psychologist Robert Kentridge. Collectively, the pair had been working to interpret the meanings of — and motivations behind — historical cave artwork.

“[Bacon’s] theories, particularly given the mass of information he had compiled, appeared ripe for testing,” Kentridge instructed CBC in an electronic mail.

Collectively, the group checked out a whole bunch of pictures from the European Higher Paleolithic period. They centered on three symbols — Ys, strains, and dots— and decided the latter two made up a lunar calendar. 

“They had been utilizing this calendar to document and find their prey for future hunts,” Bacon stated. “I feel this was giving them simply that little edge of their each day battle, you already know, managing assets, being environment friendly hunters.”

A sketch of a fish with three red bars on its belly.
This historical drawing of a salmon in Spain’s Pindal cave characteristic three strains, positioned there about 17,000 years in the past. (M. Berenguer/Cuidad de México/Frente de Afirmación Hispanista)

On that calendar, the researchers theorize the “Y” represents giving start, which means the hunter-gatherers had been monitoring animals’ reproductive cycles. The research notes the symbolism of 1 line changing into two, or “two parted legs.” 

The truth that it took so lengthy to establish these markers is emblematic of how trendy people underestimate their predecessors, Bacon stated. 

“We consider ourselves as the height of civilization. So it by no means occurred to us that somebody 40,000 years in the past may, for instance, be as brilliant as we’re,” he stated.

“Perhaps the issue was in our heads, that we thought this could not be, subsequently we did not trouble wanting.”

‘But to be confirmed’

April Nowell, a College of Victoria anthropologist who makes a speciality of paleolithic artwork and archaeology, says she welcomes research that take a more in-depth have a look at such symbols.

She says they’re usually “missed as a result of they’re much less spectacular or their meanings [are] much less apparent” than, for instance, the animal drawings themselves. 

“However I feel there are a variety of assumptions being made right here which have but to be confirmed,” she cautioned in an electronic mail to CBC.

A grid of six crude black and white drawings of animals, each with a 'Y' symbol somewhere on them.
This ‘Y’ image seen on Ice Age cave artwork might characterize when an animal provides start, a brand new research hypothesizes. (Cambridge Archaeological Journal)

Nowell says she’s not satisfied the findings provide ample proof to establish a calendar, and questions why the paleolithic individuals would begin their calendar within the spring and abandon it within the winter.

What’s extra, she questioned the research’s interpretation of the Y image. 

“I’m having some issue with that in that almost all of animals thought-about on this research are quadrupeds and people usually squat giving start,” she stated. “If this signal is meant to be iconic of the start course of, it isn’t apparent to me.”

Kentbridge famous that start is only one potential interpretation for the Y image. Bacon stated the idea just isn’t primarily based on symbolism alone, however archeological proof. He says they discovered a correlation between Y and the start cycles and birthplaces of the animals they analyzed.

Nowell additionally says the symbols aren’t fairly refined sufficient to be thought-about “proto-writing,” because it lacks all of the items of language, like nouns, verbs, pronouns, and so on. 

A man with long blonde hair, a big, bushy beard and sunglasses.
Robert Kentridge is a psychologist at Durham College who’s within the psychological motivation of Ice Age cave artwork. (Durham College)

Lastly, Nowell cautioned that the authors solely checked out three of at the least 32 recurring characters in artwork samples. 

“Even when the authors are right about dots, strains and Y-signs, we nonetheless do not know what 90 per cent of the indicators imply, and so they did not deal with when these indicators happen in different contexts and what which may inform us,” she stated.

“Understanding what pictures they do not happen with or in the event that they happen in isolation is as essential and will change our understanding of their meanings.”

On that entrance, Bacon agrees. He says there’s a whole lot of work left to be executed — each by way of deciphering the symbols, and mapping their complexity.

“That is solely the start,” he stated. “There are upwards of 100 indicators on this world, and we’re steadily working away at them.”