Prehistoric Caves May Contain Oldest Paintings of Volcanic Eruptions (Hyperallergic)

by Claire Voon on January 25, 2016 original article here.


L: General view of the Megaloceros panel showing the spray signs (photo credit D. Genty); R: Detail of the Megaloceros panel (photos V. Feruglio-D. Baffier) (all images © 2016 Nomade et al, used under CC BY 4.0)

Since its discovery in 1994, the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc cave in southern France has been a rich site for researchers to study prehistoric art, featuring early paintings of both animals and humans on its walls. Now the ancient site — which in 2014 received UNESCO World Heritage Site status — may also present the oldest depiction of a volcanic eruption discovered yet, according to a study recently published by a team of French scientists in the journal PLoS One.

“Our work provides the first evidence of an intense volcanic activity between 40 and 30 ka in the Bas-Vivarais region,” researchers write in the study, “and it is very likely that humans living in the Ardèche river area witnessed one or several eruptions.”

Likely finger-painted with red and white pigments, the paintings resemble little fountains — “spray-shape signs,” as the team describes them. They appear on the walls of various galleries in the cave; one appears to emerge from the head of a Megaloceros, which was later drawn in charcoal and partially covers the abstract pattern. The researchers, comparing the age of the symbols with dates of local volcanic activity, believe the cave dwellers were responding to an eruption that occurred approximately 36,000 years ago. The closest volcano would have stood in the Bas-Vivarais region, a little over 20 miles northwest of the cave.


Çatalhöyük mural painting in Turkey, considered the oldest depiction of a volcanic eruption, dated from the 8th/7th millennium BCE

“There’s no way anybody could prove that it is a volcano that they depicted, but for us it’s the hypothesis which is the most probable,” Sebastien Nomade, who led the study, told Nature.


Petroglyphs depicting the Porak volcano eruption in the Syunik region of Armenia

If the scientists’ claims are true, the paintings would predate the nearly 9,000-year-old Çatalhöyük mural in Turkey, previously identified in the early 1960s by archaeologist James Mellaart as the earliest representation of such an eruption. Another known depiction is found in southern Armenia, where a group of six petrogylphs dating to the 5th millennium BCE show eruptions of the Porak volcano. The Chauvet image would also predate Pliny the Younger’s famous description of the 79 CE Vesuvias eruption.

“I think they make a pretty good case that it’s potentially a depiction of the kind of volcano that one sees on the landscape,” as Michael Petraglia, a University of Oxford archaeologist (unaffiliated with the study) told Nature. “Maybe there’s more of this out there than we have realized.”

What was discovered about cave paintings will shock you and change the history books

Hand stencil in a cave in Indonesia, dated to at least 39,900 years old (photograph by Kinza Riza, via

Stencil of a hand from cave in Indonesia, possibly older than 39,900 years old (photo by Kinza Riza, via

New evidence was published last week in the journal Nature that proves Europe is no longer the birthplace of art. A team of archeologists from Australia and Indonesia headed by Maxime Aubert and Adam Brumm of Griffith University investigated a series of cave paintings in Maros on the southern part of the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. These scientists analyzed the 12 stencils of human hands and two paintings of animals at seven different sites in the caves. The cave paintings had stalactite-like mineral growths that aided in the current dating of these paintings. The new  dating of rock art found in Indonesia dates to the same time as cave paintings at the Cave of El Castillo in Cantabria, Northern Spain. This proves that similar art was being made in the Pacific region of the world at the same time as the oldest European cave art and changes the present ideas about humans first developed the ability to produce art. Previously, these painting were assumed to be no more than 10,000 years old but newly developed techniques of examining mineral deposits created the circumstances to correctly date these works of art.

There are also cave paintings that date as early as 27,000 years ago making this a location that was used for approximately 13,000 years. Additionally, other cave paintings located about 1ookm away in the regency of Bone cannot be dated because they lack the mineral deposits but may possibly be just as old as the Maros cave paintings because of stylistic similarities.

The "pig-deer" and the adjacent hand outline (screenshot by the author via YouTube/

The “pig-deer” and the “signature” of the artist (screenshot by the author via YouTube/ and

The “pig-deer” painting show above, also called a babirusa, is a bit younger than some of the other cave paintings with a date of approximately 35,400 years old, concurrent with Chauvet Caves. This animal painting is one of the oldest figural cave paintings in the world, possibly the oldest.

Maxime Aubert looking at cave art (from BBC News)

Maxime Aubert looking at cave art (from BBC News)

Archeologists believe these hand prints are approximately 40,0000 years old and the artists made them by blowing paint around hands that were pressed tightly to the cave walls and ceilings. Some of the hands in these caves in Indonesia are possibly the oldest hand paintings in the world.


New Evidence that Neanderthals Made Art (Hyperallergic)

by Mostafa Heddaya on September 2, 2014 original article here.

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Figure 4 from the “A rock engraving made by Neanderthals in Gibraltar” report, published August 12, 2014 (screenshot via PNAS)

Researchers have uncovered further evidence that human ancestors may have begun producing cave art earlier than previously thought. A group of European archaeologists have published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences presenting “the first known example of an abstract pattern engraved by Neanderthals.” The pattern, discovered at the southern tip of Spain in Gorham’s Cave, Gibraltar and dating to between 38,500 and 30,500 years ago, could substantially expand our understanding of the genealogy of artistic expression, generally thought to have begun with the cave art of early Homo sapiens, not Neanderthals.

Clive Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum and one of the researchers involved, told BBC News that the discovery “brings the Neanderthals closer to us, yet again.” Previous studies, the BBC adds in their report, have noted evidence of Neanderthal flutes, decorative accessories, and even art.

The earliest appearance of cave art has been dated elsewhere in Spain to approximately 40,000 years ago, a 2012 discovery that unseated France’s Chauvet cave paintings as the world’s oldest. And although modern humans appeared some 45,000 years ago, Finlayson added that they reached the Iberian peninsula later than other regions, bolstering the hypothesis that the Gibraltar discovery is original Neanderthal handiwork and not inspired by human contact.

Whether or not these most recent discoveries of marks can be considered art remains a point of contention, and the authors of the Gibraltar study specifically establish that the marks had to have been made intentionally.

Francesco d’Errico, who oversaw the experiments in the Gibraltar study and is research director of France’s Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Bordeaux, told BBC News that the geological circumstances of the marks establish their intentionality.

“[Dolomite] is a very hard rock, so it requires a lot of effort to produce the lines,” d’Errico said.