How a furnishings conservator helped crack the code of Ice Age cave artwork

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 beginner anthropologist, was photographs of paleolithic cave drawings when he began to note patterns within the dots, strains and different symbols which can be 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 informed 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 approach of speaking essential details about the animals they hunted.

‘A little bit of a revelation’

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

“I assumed it have to be a communication system of some kind,” he mentioned. “Then I appeared to see if anybody had really 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 informed 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 knowledge he had compiled, appeared ripe for testing,” Kentridge informed CBC in an electronic mail.

Collectively, the staff checked out a whole bunch of photographs 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 have been utilizing this calendar to file and find their prey for future hunts,” Bacon mentioned. “I believe this was giving them simply that little edge of their every day battle, you understand, managing sources, 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 function 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 delivery, which means the hunter-gatherers have 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 determine these markers is emblematic of how trendy people underestimate their predecessors, Bacon mentioned. 

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

“Perhaps the issue was in our heads, that we thought this could not be, due to this fact we did not hassle 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 “neglected 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 believe there are a selection 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 could signify when an animal provides delivery, a brand new research hypothesizes. (Cambridge Archaeological Journal)

Nowell says she’s not satisfied the findings supply adequate proof to determine 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 problem with that in that almost all of animals thought-about on this research are quadrupeds and people usually squat giving delivery,” she mentioned. “If this signal is meant to be iconic of the delivery course of, it isn’t apparent to me.”

Kentbridge famous that delivery is only one doable interpretation for the Y image. Bacon mentioned the idea shouldn’t be primarily based on symbolism alone, however archeological proof. He says they discovered a correlation between Y and the delivery cycles and birthplaces of the animals they analyzed.

Nowell additionally says the symbols should not fairly refined sufficient to be thought-about “proto-writing,” because it lacks all of the items of language, like nouns, verbs, pronouns, and many others. 

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 no less than 32 recurring characters in artwork samples. 

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

“Understanding what photographs 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 performed — each when it comes to deciphering the symbols, and mapping their complexity.

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

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