Home / Funny / Viral / The Mystery Of The 20,000-Year-Old Cave Drawings Which Baffled Archeologists Finally Solved


There is a long history of artistic expression among early humans and our now-extinct Neanderthal cousins. Over thousands of years, the abstract shapes and handprints that made up prehistoric cave art changed into identifiable drawings of plants and animals. France and Spain contain a large number of the earliest cave paintings.

Archaeologists can learn a great deal from these scenes about late Ice Age living, especially regarding early human hunting practices. Nevertheless, for decades, researchers have been baffled by some repeated dots and lines discovered in animal cave paintings. A recent paper published in the Cambridge Archeological Journal reveals that these marks are, in fact, a proto-writing system and calendar that tracks each animal's reproductive cycle, thanks to the astute deductions of a London furniture restorer.

The reason behind the seemingly "random" lines and dots in cave paintings has long been a mystery. Approximately 20,000 years ago, various fish species, reindeer, cattle, and other creatures were painted with ochre markings on cave walls. The significance of the paintings for early human communication has long been acknowledged by archaeologists. Professor Brian Fagan stated to History.com in 2021, "When wildlife biologists look at those paintings of reindeer and bison, they can tell you what time of year it was painted just from the appearance of the animals' hides and skins." "By our standards, these people had an incredibly deep understanding of their surroundings." 

Ben Bacon, a furniture restorer by trade rather than an archaeologist by education, got to work deciphering the dots and lines. He gathered information from online and British Library images of cave paintings. "I gathered as much information as I could and started searching for recurring patterns," he claims.

A Y-shaped sign piqued his interest in particular because it had a smaller line emerging from a main dash that appeared to him to represent the idea of "giving birth." After more investigation, Bacon concluded that the markings were a reference to a lunar calendar. He presented his theory to scholars at University College London and Durham University. Luckily, they were receptive to his untrained conclusions. They contrasted the markings with contemporary animals' birth cycles that are comparable, like cows. Based on this comparison, it appears that the Paleolithic markings most likely correspond to the lunar month-based mating season of each creature.

"The results show that Ice Age hunter-gatherers were the first to use a systemic calendar and marks to record information about major ecological events within that calendar," says Durham University professor Paul Pettitt. This is surprising, but consistent with the long-held belief among researchers that cave paintings had a vital role in survival. It's a remarkable illustration of an early writing system serving a very obvious function.

As Professor Pettitt continues, "We are able to demonstrate that these people, who left a record of early timekeeping that would eventually become commonplace among our species, also left a legacy of spectacular art in the caves of Lascaux [in France] and Altamira [in Spain”). Ancient humans are "a lot more like us than we had previously thought," according to Bacon, one of the paper's authors along with the formal scholars. These people seem much closer to us now that they have been apart for many millennia. 

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