Saturday, September 26, 2020


Photo of Madagascar cave wall with pictographs, upper right. Internet photo - Public Domain.

One of the most exciting things about rock art is that it can serve as a window on the past, a way to see things that no longer exist, whether it be the lifeways of ancient peoples, or ancient creatures that those people portrayed that are now extinct.

Photo of panel, and field drawing. Internet photo -

“An international team of scientists has discovered stylistically unique ancient drawings, including the only known prehistoric depiction of a now-extinct giant sloth lemur, on the walls of a rock shelter in western Madagascar. The drawings were discovered by Dr. David Burney from Hawaii’s National Tropical Botanical Garden and his colleagues from the United Kingdom, Madagascar and the United States in Andriamamelo Cave near the small village of Anahidrano.” (Prostak 2020)

Close-up photo of Sloth Lemur. Internet photo -

“The diversity of lemurs was greater in the past - much greater. Where Africa has its gorillas and Borneo and Sumatra their orang-utans, Madagascar had its giant sloth lemurs (Archaeoindris fontoynonti), which weighed up to 244 kg and were the size of male gorillas.” (Van der Geer 2017)

Sloth Lemur skull (Archaeoindris fontoynontii), Internet photo - Public Domain.

“The sloth lemurs (family Palaeopropithecidae) are a group of extinct giant lemurs that includes four genera. The common name can be misleading, as these creatures were not closely related to South American sloths. As the name implies, sloth lemurs were designed for treetop living, with long arms and legs, limber joints and hook-like hands and feet. These adaptations allowed them to be adept at both leaping and climbing.” (Prostak 2020)

Artist's conception of the Madagascar Sloth Lemur. Illustration by Roman Uchytel,

“Limited scansoriality has been postulated for the gorilla-sized Archaeoindris which has been likened to a ground sloth. However, its very high femoral neck-shaft angle and other highly derived postcranial features which are shared only with Palaeopropithecus, suggest more committed arboreality.” (Godfrey and Jungers 2003:256) (NOTE: Scansorial is defined as capable of, or adapted for, climbing.}

As to the presumed ancient creation of these images we must remember that Madagascar is one of the last places on earth that humanity accomplished the extinction of the native megafauna. “A few may have succumbed only very recently. A specimen of Palaeopropithecus ingens from Ankilitelo in southwest Madagascar was recently radiocarbon-dated at 510-80 PB. Confidence limits on this date include the historical period.” (Godfrey and Jungers 2003:257) So, although the Madagascar Sloth Lemur is indeed extinct, that does not mean the rock art is ancient because the extinction of this animal apparently happened during the early historic period.

While it would be truly exciting to have this turn out to represent the extinct animal that has been designated, I do have a couple of problems with stating that this definitely is a representation of Madagascar’s extinct sloth lemur. First, not one of the authors of the paper has rock art experience or publications in their past that I could determine. Second, although the image in question does look very like a sloth hanging upside down, that pose is almost universally accepted by students of rock art to indicate that the pictured animal is deceased, not a sloth hanging from a tree limb. And if it is not a sloth lemur, but instead a dead quadruped, a great age for this petroglyph is not as likely.  I therefore feel that positively identifying this image as Madagascar’s extinct sloth lemur is really going out on a limb.

NOTE: Images in this posting were retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on these reports you should read the original reports at the sites listed below.


Godfrey, Laura, and William Jungers,

2003 The Extinct Sloth Lemurs of Madagascar, Evolutionary Anthropology 12:252–263 (2003)

Prostak, Sergio,

2020 Researchers Find Unique Ancient Rock Drawings of Extinct Sloth Lemur, Sept. 7, 2020,

Van der Geer, Alexandra

2017 The Late Survival of Madagascar’s Megafauna, Sept. 22, 2017,


Burney, David A. et al.

2020 Rock art from Andriamamelo Cave in the Beanka Protected Area of western Madagascar, Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology, published online May 26, 2020; doi:10.1080/15564894.2020.1749735

Monday, September 14, 2020


Horses, Atxurra cave, Diego Garate.

Vandalism in Axturra cave,
and paleolithic image after
processing photograph.
By Diego Garate.

When I first became interested in rock art back in 1978 we were living in Grand Junction, Colorado, an area with access to the magnificent rock art of western Colorado and eastern Utah. In an interesting connection to this report I remember that the results of the previous Federal Census had just been released and the largest minority population in Grand Junction at that time was ethnic Basques, supposedly because of sheepherders who had come over from the Old World to work, and then stayed.

Fish petroglyph, Gipuzkoa cave, Northern Spain. Photo from arkeobasque.

The study of the magnificent art of the painted caves in Europe, centered on France and Spain, has tended (predominately for nationalistic reasons) to ignore the area in between, the Basque-inhabited regions of northern Spain. The Basques were (are) often seen as less cultured, a somewhat more primitive people living in a wild, mountainous land at the western end of the Pyrenees.

Map of the Basque region, northern Spain.

The painted cave of Altamira is in Cantabria, Spain, and the Basque territory is nestled between Cantabria and the southern French centers of cave art. The Basque Autonomous Community (7,234 km square) consists of three provinces, specifically designated "historical territories": Alava (capital: Vitoria-Gasteiz, Biscay (capital: Bilbao), and Gipuzkoa (capital: Donostie-San Sebastian). This, the Basque territory provides a continuous region connecting the centers of French cave art with the Spanish. We are now beginning to learn that the art is continuous as well, with the discovery of magnificent Paleolithic painted caves in the Basque region by archeologist Diego Garate and others. (It should be noted as well that there is a Basque population in the southern French region.

Bison, Askondo cave, photo from arkeobasque.

Indeed, the Basques may have inhabited this area since the stone age, their origins lost in the mists of time. “Since the Basque language is unrelated to Indo-European, it has long been thought to represent the people or culture that occupied Europe before the spread of Indo-European languages there. A comprehensive analysis of Basque genetic patterns has shown that Basque genetic uniqueness predates the arrival of agriculture in the Iberian Peninsula, about 7,000 years ago. It is thought that Basques are a remnant of the early inhabitants of Western Europe, specifically those of the Franco-Cantabrian region. Basque tribes were mentioned in Roman times by Strabo and Pliny, including the Vascones, the Aquitani, and others.” (Wikipedia)

Horse panel, Ekain Cave, Internet photo Public Domain.

        Closeup of horse panel, Ekain Cave,

            Internet photo Public Domain.

Legends of the Basque people themselves talk about people who only knew tools of stone. “The jentilak ('Giants'), on the other hand, are a legendary people of the high lands and with no knowledge of iron. Many legends about them tell that they were bigger and taller, with a great force, but were displaced by the ferrons, or workers of ironworks foundries, until their total fade-out.” (Wikipedia)

We know that the inhabitants of France are probably not direct descendants of the creators of the art, and the same goes for the bulk of Spain. It does appear, however, that the inhabitants of the Basque region are probably genetically related to the creators of the Paleolithic cave art. Could it be that the people who are today discovering and studying the Paleolithic art of the Basque territory, are the direct descendants of the people who produced it originally?

NOTE: Some images in this posting were retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on these reports you should read the original reports at the sites listed below.



2015 Recent Advances In Paleolithic Rock Art In Basque Country (2010-2015), 28 April 2015,

Cowie, Ashley

2020 40,000-Year-Old Cave Art Fills Basque Country Void, 13 March 2020,

Garate, Diego

2018 Solving A Riddle About The Dawn Of Art, 16 Jan 2018,

Schuster, Ruth

2020 Ancient Art Found In Basque Country Changes Understanding Of Prehistoric Society, 12 March 2020,



Basque Country (greater region),

Saturday, September 12, 2020


One of the engraved plaquettes, Photo BBC.

On July 26, 2020, I posted a column titled This Rock Art In Wales May Be Britain’s Earliest about an early petroglyph discovered in a cave in Wales. Since then another site has been announced that challenges the cave in Wales as the earliest art in Great Britain. Whereas the petroglyph in Wales has been dated to from 12,000 to 14,000 BP, the new find has been tentatively dated to the Magdalenian period, 17,000 to 12,000 years ago. (Wikipedia) This site, discovered on the island of Jersey, is known as Les Varines, St. Saviours. At this location “ten fragments of  engraved fine-grained flat stones were recovered during different seasons of field excavations between 2014 and 2018.” (Bello et al. 2020) 

Scene of excavation team, Photo BBC.

“Stone plaquettes make up a significant proportion of Magdelenian mobiliary art. Plaquettes are flat pieces of stone used as a support for engraving on at least one surface. They are rarely larger than 300 mm in maximum dimension and common materials used include sandstone, limestone and schist, though organic examples on flat bone (scapulae) are also known. They are typically engraved with figurative animals or abstract ‘signs’, which can reflect a range of artistic skill.” (Bello et al. 2020)  

Close-up of engraved grooves. Internet photo Public Domain.

Such plaquettes are quite common in Magdalenian site deposits. “In France, about 1,100 stone plaquettes were found at Enlene cave. On the Iberian Peninsula, over 5,000 stone plaquettes were uncovered at Parpallo cave in Spain and over 1,500 were found at the open air site of Foz do Medal Terrace in Portugal.” (Sci-News Staff 2020) While it is tempting to assume that the engraved stones were propped up against cave walls as items of art decorating the living areas of the people, there is no indication of that. Some of these pieces, however, may have been part of a stone floor or pavement laid in the area where they were found, whether before or after engraving is not known.

“Specimens LVE4607 a and b were examined in order to determine the rock type and its minerology. The rock is an aplite comptised predominantly if inter-grown fine-grained crystals of albitic feldspar and quartz, with ver minor amounts of muscovite and biotite micas, the latter seen as black sub-millimetre clot-like aggregates dispersed sparsely throughout the aplite. Minor chlorite is also associated with biotate. The rock is texturally homogeneous and has an overal ‘sugary’ aspect, with a thin ( 1mm) white lightly-weathered surface overlying blue-grey and white aplite. The incised lines are seen on these surfaces, which in places have fresh aplite exposed as contrasting bluish-grey patches.” (Bello et al. 2020) Aplite is a rock that is chemically and mineralogically very much like granite, but the grains are much finer.

The dating, while exciting, is somewhat soft as it represents comparative analysis instead of any sort of hard scientific testing. “Precision for dating the site comes from the typological analysis of the lithic assemblage, which is dominated by narrow backed bladelets. Such assemblages predate the Cepoy phase of the Final Magdalenian, suggesting that Les Varines site is broadly contemporaneous with the classic northern Magdalenian sites of the late sixteenth and the first half of the fifteenth mellennium BP such as Gonnersdorf (Germany), Pincevent and Etiolles (France). It is also potentially predates the Magdalenian of mainland Britain as this lacks backed bladelets and displays chronologically later, derived features.” (Bello et al. 2020)

Interpretations of some of the possible compositions by S. Bello.

The researchers carefully examined ten pieces that had various markings engraved into the surface. “The designs consist of straight lines more or less in parallel and longer, curved incisions. The two types of mark were probably produced by the same tools, in short succession - perhaps by the same engraver. Co-author Dr. Silvia Bello, from the Natural History Museum, said: ‘Many of the lines, including the curved, concentric designs, appear to have been made through layered or repeated incisions, suggesting that it is unlikely that they resulted from the stones being used for a functional purpose.’ She told BBC News that most were ‘of abstract nature (simple intersecting lines), however, some fragments seem to depict zoomorphic representations (horses, mammoths, a bovid and possibly a human face).’” (Rincon)

So the question remains - what is the earliest art in Britain? Is this it, or will we see other candidates appear? I am expecting new candidates. It truly seems as if there is no end to interesting discoveries.

NOTE: Some images in this posting were retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on these reports you should read the original reports at the sites listed below.


Bello, Silvia M. et al.

2020 Artists on the edge of the world: An integrated approach to the study of Magdalenian engraved stone plaquettes from Jersey (Channel Islands), PLos One 15 (8): e0236875; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone/0236875

Faris, Peter,

2020 This Rock Art In Wales May Be Britain’s Earliest,

Rincon, Paul, Science editor,

Earliest art in the British Isles discovered on Jersey,

Sci-News Staff,

2020 15,000-Year-Old Abstract Art Found in Channel Islands, Sept. 2, 2020,



Saturday, September 5, 2020


New Iranian rock art site is at the top of the hill. Online photo D. Sigari.

This rock art site (PMB001) in north-eastern Iran was discovered by archaeologists in 2015, and recorded in August 2016. Although new to the scientific community, the site had been well known to locals who consider it to be sacred and frequently leave small offerings there. Local worshippers believe that the U-shaped images are the hoofprints of the horse of the prophet Imam Reza. (Sigari et al. 2017:1)

“Pilgrims had for years left offerings by the volcanic stone and had started to build a small temple around it. But it was only recently, in 2015, that archaeologist Mahmoud Toghrae discovered the site and began documenting the rock art.” (Suruque 2017)

Rock art panel and remains of partial shrine wall. Online photo D. Sigari.

No date estimates for the rock art have been published as yet. “There is a lot of debate when it comes to rock art in Iran to know whether we can attribute certain engravings to one period or another. We have a dating problem, because the same figures were represented, at different points in time from the Neolithic to the Iron Age. Probably the PMB001 area was settled at different periods, and the rock art represents all these phases. But without more excavations conducted at the site we can’t say for certain what the chronology is.” (Suruque 2017)

Close-up of panel detail. Online photo

One possible clue to the age of some of the symbols is represented by three bladed weapons called “axes” by the authors who believe that they represent a type of weapon used in the Chalcolithic (Copper Age) or Bronze Age. They relate these to a nearby site that was occupied during that period. “The location of PMB001 permits sweeping views across the Mashhad Plain, including Tappeh Nadery, which is visible at a distance of 11km. This site is an artificial hill preserving a long-term archaeological sequence, from the Chalcolithic to the Parthian period, testifying to continuous occupation of the region. If subsequent dating of the axes represented at PMB001 points to the Bronze Age, this may indicated some type of link between the two.” (Sigari et al. 2017:2-4)

Tracing of panel. D. Sigari and M. Toghrae.

“The Chalcolithic or Copper Age is the transitional period between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age. It is taken to begin around the mid-5th millennium BC, and ends with the beginning of the Bronze Age proper, in the late 4th to 3rd millennium BC, depending on the region.” (Wikipedia) In any case, the fact that this panel was still believed sacred by locals testifies to its many millennia of relevance to modern inhabitants of the area. Rock art can seemingly remain relevant to different people throughout time.

Note: Some images in this posting were retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me and provide them. For further information on these reports you should read the original reports on the references listed below.


Sigari, Dario, Mahmoud Toghrae, and Hassan Basafa

2017  Newly Discovered Rock Art Sites in Balandar, Mashhad Province, North-Eastern Iran, Antiquity, Vol. 91, Issue 357, June 2017.

Suruque, Lea

2017  Iran: Rock Art from Unknown Ancient Civilization Discovered on Sacred Volcanic Stone at Top of Mountain, 30 May 2017,


Copper Age State Societies,