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Inora Newsletter #42
Debate

REFLECTIONS ON A SUPPOSED CONTROVERSY

We do not propose to waste much time or space in responding to these malicious and entirely predictable remarks from Bednarik. We shall simply make the following remarks:

1) Our method of announcing to the world the discovery of the first palaeolithic rock art in Great Britain may possibly seem incoherent to Bednarik, but faced with news of such importance no investigator could keep the discovery a secret for very long in these times of rapid dissemination of information. The announcement of this find in the prestigious journal Antiquity was some measure of its great significance.

2) Our initial publication made it clear that our interpretation of the figures found on the first visit was “very preliminary”. Nevertheless, because of its historic nature, we felt it important to announce the discovery rapidly in anticipation of more detailed investigation, a precedent which has been set on many previous occasions. For our second campaign we had scaffolding, good lighting, and the highly professional support of English Heritage. We were therefore able to produce a far more detailed study, undertaken systematically; and, as mentioned in the INORA piece, it was only when lit from the opposite side that the “ibex’s” damaged antler tines became visible.

It is the very essence of science to modify one’s interpretations and assessments as more and better data become available. The cumulative nature of our discoveries in the cave occurred as we became accustomed to this strange limestone and the natural light, and slowly but surely learned to “read” these unusual surfaces. We are in no way “embarrassed” by our initial assessment that the figure might be an ibex – especially since whoever vandalised the figure clearly also believed the engraving to be a male goat – otherwise, why add a beard to it?

This “beard” was obviously made very recently – from its sharpness and brightness we estimate that it was in the 1950s or 1960s – and does not form part of the original figure. Hence its absence from our tracing.

3) If Bednarik had read our texts more carefully, he would have seen that the comparison of the animal figures with the modern graffiti was one of the convincing proofs from the outset that the engravings were certainly ancient. It is perhaps necessary to point out to this individual that in Europe, the region where palaeolithic art studies arose, modern graffiti are not considered rock art. The remains of geometric markings, omitted by us in the group of figures criticised by Bednarik, are likewise modern graffiti. Secondly, normal stylistic comparisons – the means by which almost all rock art is inevitably dated – were extremely strong with the art of the continental caves of the same date (Final Magdalenian) as the Creswellian occupation of Church Hole (which had already been well established by radiocarbon estimates). And finally, samples were taken from the calcite flows which covered some of the engravings, and the resulting Uranium/Thorium dates have provided absolute proof of the Pleistocene antiquity of these figures (Pike et al., in press).

4) Bednarik’s comments about the accuracy of our tracings and his assessments of figures (which he has never seen) from photos are similarly irrelevant and based on prejudice. SR is honoured to be compared with the “Pope of Prehistory” who produced an unequalled body of work which, despite some errors, will always stand as a monument in rock art studies.


5) Bednarik’s account of his “exclusion” from the cave is a typical distortion of the facts. When one wishes to visit a decorated cave, and particularly a brand new discovery which is still being studied and explored, the normal and courteous method is to contact a member of the team involved in the work and enquire whether a visit might be possible. Bednarik never contacted any of us. Instead he simply declared to a number of people that he intended to visit Church Hole during his European trip, and it was Kevin Sharpe who eventually contacted one of us (PP) to ask if he could visit the site with Bednarik. He was informed that the cave was closed for the winter, a period when visits are not made – at the request of English Nature – because bats have taken up residence in the site. Any normal person would accept this situation, but Bednarik has interpreted it as a personal slight, despite his flouting of the basic rules of courtesy. Moreover, all investigation at Church Hole requires permission from the landowners and from English Heritage – Bednarik sought neither. He apparently believes he has the right to go anywhere and do anything whenever it suits him.

6) Contrary to Bednarik’s sneering about our “lack of confidence”, we are 100% confident of our analyses and results; and indeed far from preventing scholars from visiting our site we have invited a series of true cave art specialists to see it, and some of them also attended our conference in Creswell in April last year – an event which was open to all, and which was attended not only by European scholars like Margherita Mussi, Genevieve Pinçon, César González Sainz, Yves Martin, Michel Lorblanchet, Andrew Chamberlain, Jill Cook, Clive Gamble, Roger Jacobi, but also by John Clegg, the eminent rock art specialist from Australia.

7) If Bednarik was really interested in checking the veracity of our discovery in order to criticise it openly and with even minimal first-hand knowledge, he could easily have booked to take part in one of the numerous public visits which the Creswell Crags Centre and Museum organized during the course of 2004 to show the new finds; more than 300 people took up this opportunity.

Sergio Ripoll, Francisco Muñoz, Paul Pettitt, Paul Bahn



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