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Britain's First Cave Art
20 June 2003 (All day)
Three archaeologists say they've discovered the first Paleolithic cave art ever found in Great Britain. During a search at Creswell Crags in Derbyshire last April, the site of a number of caves known to have been occupied near the end of the last Ice Age about 12,000 years ago, the team found what it believes is an engraving of an ibex--a wild goat--as well as what may be the images of two birds.
Archaeologists have long thought it made sense for cave art to be present in Britain. But they also assumed that if any paintings existed they would have been found by now. The archaeologists--Sergio Ripoll of the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia in Madrid, Paul Pettit of the University of Oxford, and independent archaeologist Paul Bahn--decided to investigate the Creswell caves, because examples of portable art, including engravings of a horsehead and a human figure on pieces of bone, had been found during earlier excavations there. Radiocarbon samples from these excavations yielded a date of 12,000 years.
To their delight, Ripoll spotted the presumed ibex engraving. Unlike paintings, engravings are very tough to spot without proper side lighting and a lot of good luck. If the discovery is verified, it would stretch the distribution map of Paleolithic cave art about 450 kilometers northwards from the most northerly site currently known, the Gouy cave near Rouen in Normandy, France. The archaeologists describe their find in the June issue of Antiquity.
Other archaeologists are not quite ready to accept that the engravings date from the Paleolithic period. Randall White of New York University wants to see much better documentation "in order to be convinced of the Paleolithic age" of the images. And French cave art expert Jean Clottes says he is withholding judgement until specialists carry out "an in-depth geological and morphological study of the cave walls."