Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Britain's Oldest Rock Art

Engraving from the Gower Peninsular, Wales

100,000 to 15,000 years ago, Europe was covered in vast glacial ice sheets. Our ancestors sought refuge in the thousands of limestone caves across France, Germany and Spain. Archaeological cultures such as the Swabian Aurignacians or the Maglemosian were born within these. However while these early Europeans huddled round fires to protect themselves from the deadly cold outside, they also created some of the finest rock art in the world.

France is the Louvre of Europe with thousands of paintings ranging from simple scratched figures to huge murals created with ochre and charcoal. Britain's rock art is less well known. However archaeologists believe that they have found the oldest rock art in the UK. Doctor George Nash was excavating a cave in the Gower Peninsular in Wales in September 2010; the precise location has not yet been disclosed; his team had discovered around 300 arrow heads and similar flint tools, when, in a little crevice of the cave, Nash noticed a small drawing.

It was a scratched depiction of a spear impaled reindeer made by a hunter gatherer, we think, around 15,000 years ago. By this time the ice sheets had waned in mainland Europe. Britain was still ice bound. However due to a quirk of glacial geology, scientists have found that the ice sheets would have stopped just two kilometers from the cave entrance. It is possible that if the ice sheets had come up any further, our artist would have not had the spare time to create such a depiction. Nash described the find as 'very very exciting' and hypothesized that it could be even older than they at first thought. Radiocarbon dating results have yet to be published.