Inora Newsletter #43
BYCÍ SKÁLA CAVE, CZECH REPUBLIC:
RADIOCARBON DATES OF ROCK PAINTINGS
Since the visit of Henri Breuil in eastern Central Europe during the early twenties of the past century, prehistoric rock art that would be comparable to that in the Franco-Cantabrian region, has been intensively looked for. As a result, some drawings that could possibly be prehistoric, either Upper Paleolithic or Neolithic, were found in three caves of this region: Bycí skála cave in the Moravian karst, Mladec cave in the Mladec-Javo karst, and Domica in the Slovakian karst. However, there were no ways to prove the prehistoric origin of the simple drawings recorded from these caves. This note reports on the first two C14 dates obtained recently from the black coloration in the Bycí skála Cave in the Groningen laboratory for isotopic research.
Bycí skála is the main undergroung network in the middle part of the Moravian Karst, and it is famous as an offering or burial site of the Hallstatt period. The walls of the main passage, between the actual entrance and the first siphon, are covered with inscriptions, dates, and signatures of historic age. Some of these graffiti, however, are worth special attention: in particular, the figure of a cervid (deer?) and a geometric pattern, both black. These drawings were found at the end of a large side cavity called the Southern Prong, far from the entrance and from daylight. Given the fact that Upper Paleolithic, mainly Magdalenian, occupation layers have been documented here since the end of the 19th century, it had been argued that the drawings might date to the same time-period. However, the activities of several generations of archaeologists, professionals and amateurs alike, in this area might also suggest that the paintings were modern made, either as a fake or as a joke. In 2003, the site was visited by Jean Clottes, who was sceptical about the cervid, but who suggested a late prehistoric age for the geometric patterns. The new 14C datings broadly confirm his estimations. The first sample was taken from the animal figure and the second one from the travertine coverage on its back. The result from the painting is 680 ± 40 BP (GrA-28556). After calibration the interval would be from 1275-1305 to 1365-1385 AD (1 sigma) and from 1265-1325 to 1345- 1395 AD (2 sigmas), which indicates the Middle Ages. No date could be obtained for the travertine.
The third sample taken from the geometric pattern yielded the date of 4420 ± 50 BP (GrA-28558); after calibration, the interval would be between 3265-3240 and 3100- 2925 BC (1 sigma) and 3330-3215 to 3130-2915 BC (2 sigmas). This age corresponds to the Chalcolithic or Eneolithic, a quite complex time-period in Moravia with a rapid succession of several cultural entities. In fact, the geometric pattern on the cave wall recalls certain patterns engraved on ceramic vessels of this time, namely of the Baden culture, which is an important result.
In conclusion, the first dates from Bycí skála did not prove that any Paleolithic rock art existed there, contrary to some earlier surmises. The first dated rock art in eastern Central Europe is now known to have happened within the Eneolithic period. A similar situation may be expected in the Domica cave in Slovakia, where the paintings also black are believed to be Neolithic (Bükk culture). Additional research and more datings from both caves will probably clear this problem in the future. The question of Mladec, unfortunately, is not solvable at the moment, since the simple (mostly linear) paintings there are red.
Jirí A. SVOBODA 1, Hans VAN DER PLICHT 2 & Ivan BALÁK 3
1 Institute of Archaeology, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic,
Brno and Dolní Vestonice.
2 Rijksuniversiteit Groningen.
3 Protection Service of the Natural Reserve Moravian Karst.