A team of archeologists from the University of Tubingen in Germany recently discovered a number of cave drawings in eastern France that are estimated to be more than 12,000-years-old. These drawings were reportedly covered up for several centuries by comparatively recent graffiti dating back to the 16th to 19th centuries.
According to a report from Live Science, the ancient drawings were found in two caves known as Grottes d’Agneux and had long been suspected by researchers to have existed beneath the layers of graffiti from more modern times. A press release from the University of Tubingen noted that the discovery marked the first time in about 150 years of research in the area that proof was found of early modern humans creating cave art. Among the drawings uncovered by the researchers were images of what looked to be a horse and a prehistoric deer.
In an email to Live Science, lead researcher Harald Floss, a professor of early prehistory and quaternary ecology from the University of Tubingen, explained that the graffiti mostly consisted of names, dates, and “a few” figurative pictures. This suggests that people who had visited the caves tended to “leave their mark” in the area, given how Grottes d’Agneux is located in a part of eastern France known for its “picturesque” views.
The Tubingen press release went into detail about the methodologies used by the researchers, who also worked closely with Juan Ruiz, a prehistoric cave art expert from the University of Cuenca in Spain. After using advanced scanning technology to study the walls of Grottes d’Agneux, the team used image processing software to recreate the original cave drawings that were covered up through the years by graffiti, and documented several photos of the artwork to make the creations look more “three-dimensional.”
When it came to estimating how old the cave drawings were, the researchers used carbon-14 dating to determine the age of the charcoal found in the caves and used to create the artwork. It was concluded that the drawings were made during the Upper Paleolithic period, or at least 12,000 years ago, based on how far the carbon-14 had decayed. Per a separate article from Live Science, this was in the final years of the last Ice Age, which ended about 11,700 years ago.
According to Floss, the site of the cave drawings is a particularly interesting one, as it is believed to be part of a region where modern humans and Neanderthals might have interacted with each other.
“Early modern humans were guided by rivers as they spread across the continent,” Floss said.
“They may have migrated here from the east via the Danube and from the south via the Rhone. Our data suggest that Neanderthals and early modern humans could have met here in eastern France.”
As French authorities visited Grottes d’Agneux in mid-2018 and confirmed that the caves have archeological significance, the researchers are planning to conduct further studies at the location. No details regarding the upcoming research were specified on the University of Tubingen press release.