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Inora Newsletter #45
Divers

PLEISTOCENE ROCK ART IN CENTRAL EUROPE?

I welcome the paper by Svoboda et al. INORA 43, adding Bycí Skála to the growing number of Eurasian rock art sites that have been falsely attributed to the Pleistocene. In their last sentence, they mention that the question of Mladec, another Czech site, “is not solvable at the moment”.

Having examined sixteen red markings in various parts of Mladec Cave, I can report that there is no evidence in support of a Pleistocene age here either (Oliva 1989). It is not even certain that this cave was entered by Upper Palaeolithic people. Much if not most of the Late Pleistocene cave fill must have fallen via a shaft in its roof, and this may well include the human remains and the conspicuously sparse lithics from that site (Jelínek 1987). The site’s research history since 1881 (Bednarik in press) encourages little confidence in the archaeological claims made about it, apart from the solid evidence recently tendered concerning the ages of five Mladec hominins (Wild et al. 2005). These were found to range in age from 26,330 BP (the ulna of 25c) to 31,500 BP. Against this background of uncertainty, the status and antiquity of the cave’s series of red pictograms must be considered on their own merits.

The recent age of at least four of the cave’s red pictograms is considered to be beyond doubt. They represent written characters and from their context among numerous other inscriptions are thought to be of the late 19th century. Colorimetric analysis (for method, see Bednarik & Khan 2005: 68-71) has shown that the data of the remaining, very simple markings are so close to these four that they may have been made with the same pigment. Most of the cave’s red markings have experienced diffusion through moisture, and this modification is no more pronounced in any of them than it is in the inscriptions. Colorimetric analysis confirms that the minor

variation in colour seems to reflect local preservation conditions. Moreover, all of the markings were only accessible before or during the extensive excavation of the cave, they were not of ready access from the floor levels at the time of the presumed but questionable Aurigna-cian or Gravettian occupation. The prominent presence of copper noted in motif No. 3 would be unusual for Palaeolithic pigments, and none of the motifs is of a shape bringing to mind typical Upper Palaeolithic markings observed elsewhere in Europe. Rather, they could be location markers made by the early excavators. Motifs 1 to 4 are located above the area where the initial human remains were supposedly found. Microscopy of the markings accessible to me has confirmed that they are probably modern.

Pleistocene ages have been prematurely attributed to many other rock art motifs across Eurasia. For instance, one of the zoomorphs in Ignatiev Cave (Russia) has yielded a Holocene carbon date (Steelman et al. 2002), and my investigation of two reports of Palaeolithic rock art sites in Austria, at Stubwieswipfel and Kienbachklamm (Kohl & Burgstaller 1992), resulted in the rejection of both claims. Many of the claimed images are natural features, and the authentic petroglyphs are without exception of very recent ages (Bednarik 1999).

Similarly, there have been many reports of Pleistocene rock art in Germany. Some, such as those from Kleines Schulerloch (Birkner 1938, Pl. 13) and Kastlgänghöhle (Bohmers 1939: 40) have long been debunked (Bosinski 1982: 6). Those from a series of caves in the Swabian Alb have only been refuted recently. Conard and Uerpmann (2002) dismissed most of them, but promoted one exfoliated fragment with paint traces from Hohle Fels as the only authentic Pleistocene rock art from Germany. Having investigated all these claims in detail I found that the Hohle Fels plaque is a piece of Magdalenian portable art, because at the time it was decorated with four series of red dots it was already detached. Microscopy detected hundreds of pigment particles on its underside, transferred from the paint-covered fingers of the person holding the plaque (Bednarik 2002). The “black-brown pigmented” stone fragment from Geissenklösterle (Hahn 1988) is a pyroclast coated by a resinous substance, probably derived from a campfire. The “black, yellow and red pigmented” fragment from the same site (Hahn 1986) is a limestone clast bearing accretionary deposits covered by a thin calcite skin, of an interesting taphonomic history, but presenting no evidence of rock art.
Fig. 1. Motif No. 2, Mladec Cave, V-shaped red mark above a presumed site of hominin remains found in the “Dome of the Dead” during the late 19th century.

Of particular interest is a large series of exfoliated, laminar fragments from Hohle Fels (Hahn 1991), each bearing extensive incisions of greatly varying widths on one face. These fragments show typical Bärenschliff, the kind of wall polish occasioned by cave bears in many caves of Europe as their massive bodies rubbed against the cave walls in the dark, sediment embedded in their shaggy fur acting as an abrasive. Detailed microscopy has shown unambiguously that the dense network of lines on these smooth panels were caused by coarse, angular quartz grains, and there is not a single convincing instance of intentional engraving among the thousands of markings examined from Hohle Fels (Bednarik 2002). They fully resemble identical random marks on such polishes in numerous caves I have examined. In short, there is currently no evidence of Pleistocene rock art in Germany, although a new claim from the Rothaargebirge is yet to be examined.

Fig. 2. Two of the red marks occurring on a panel bearing numerous
pencil and charcoal inscriptions of the late 19th century.

There are many other European examples of Pleistocene rock art claims that remain to be resolved. Among them are the various claims from Portugal, and the claim concerning Siega Verde in western Spain. The latter site is certainly post-Roman. Many other European sites listed in Bahn and Vertut (1997) as Palaeolithic also need to be examined more critically. Much the same applies right across Asia, where claims of very great age have been refuted at Shishkino and Tal’ma in Siberia (Bednarik & Devlet 1993) and where Jasiewicz and Rozwadowski (2001) have shown that the purported “earliest known rock art of central Asia” is probably of the 19th century. Similarly, Kubarev (1997) has stated categorically that all rock art to the west of China is of the Bronze Age or later. Nevertheless, there are still numerous claims of Pleistocene rock art from the general region, even if the art is clearly superimposed over glacial striations of the last glacial incursion, and significantly younger than these traces.

Robert G. BEDNARIK
Australian Rock Art Research Association

Bibliographie

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BEDNARIK R. G., 2002. — Paläolithische Felskunst in Deutschland? Archaeologische Informationen, 25, p. 107-117.

BEDNARIK R. G., in press. — The Cave art of Mladec Cave, Czech Republic.

BEDNARIK R. G., & DEVLET E., 1993. — Problemy konservatsiï pamyatnikov naskal’nogo iskusstva verkhneï Leny. Sovremennye problemy isucheniya petro-glifov, p. 37-48. Spornik Nauchnykh Trudov, Kemerov-skiï Rocu-darstvennyï Universitet, Kemerovo.

BEDNARIK R. G., & KHAN M., 2005. — Scientific studies of Saudi Arabian rock art. Rock Art Research, 22, p. 49-81.

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BOHMERS A., 1939. — Die Felszeichnung in der Kastlhänghöhle. Germania, 1939, p. 39-40.

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CONARD N. J. & UERPMANN H.-P., 2000. — New evidence for Paleolithic rock painting in central Europe. Current Anthropology, 41, p. 853-856.

HAHN J., 1986. — Kraft und Aggression. Die Botschaft der Eiszeitkunst im Aurignacien Süddeutschlands? Verlag Archaeologica Venatoria, Tübingen.

HAHN J., 1988. — Das Geißenklösterle 1. Forschungen und Berichte zur Vor- und Frühgeschichte in Baden-Württemberg 26. Kondrad Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart.

HAHN J., 1991. — Höhlenkunst aus dem Hohlen Fels bei Schelklingen, Alb-Donau-Kreis. Archäologische Ausgrabungen in Baden-Württemberg, 1990, p. 19-22.

JASIEWICZ Z. & ROZWADOWSKI A., 2001. — Rock paintings – wall paintings: new light on art traditions in central Asia. Rock Art Research, 18, p. 3-14.

JELINEK J., 1987. — Historie, identifikace a vyznam mladecskych antropologickych nálezu z pocátku mladého paleolitu. Anthropos, 25, p. 51-69.

KOHL H. & BURGSTALLER E., 1992. — Eiszeit in Oberösterreich: Paläolithikum-Felsbilder. Österreichisches Felsbildermuseum, Spital am Pyhrn.

KUBAREV V. D., 1997. — O petroglifakh Kalguty. In Naskal’noe iskusstvo azii, p. 88-97. Kemerovo: Kyzbassvuzizdat.

OLIVA M., 1989. — Mladopaleolitické nálezy z Mladecskych jeskyní. Acta Musei Moraviae, 74, p. 35-54.

STEELMAN K. L., ROWE M. W., SHIROKOV V. N. & SOUTHON J. R., 2002. — Radiocarbon dates for pictographs in Ignatievskaya Cave, Russia: Holocene age for supposed Pleistocene fauna. Antiquity, 76, p. 341-348.

WILD E. M., TESCHLER-NICOLA M., KUTSCHERA W., STEIER P., TRINKAUS E. & WANEK W., 2005. — Direct dating of Early Upper Palaeolithic human remains from Mladec. Nature, 19 (mai 2005).



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