Prehistoric Art! Fall 2018

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Prehistoric 'hashtag' may be world's oldest drawing: study

PARIS (AFP).- It may be a symbol of the internet age but scientists in South Africa have found an ancient hashtag scrawled on a piece of rock that they believe is the world's oldest "pencil" drawing.

The design, which archaeologists say was created around 73,000 years ago, pre-dates previously identified abstract drawings from Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia by at least 30,000 years.

It was found by researchers inside the Blombos Cave, around 300 kilometres (185 miles) east of Cape Town, a site that contains evidence of some of the earliest instances of what humans today would call culture.

Previous expeditions to the cave found shell beads, engraved pieces of ochre and even tools manufactured from a rudimentary cement-like substance.

Among the artefacts was a small flake of silicate rock, onto which a three-by-six line cross-hatched pattern had been intentionally drawn in red ochre.

"Our microscopic and chemical analyses of the pattern confirm that red ochre pigment was intentionally applied to the flake with an ochre crayon," the team wrote in a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

They said the pattern appearing on the fragment may have originally extended over a larger area and could have been "more complex in its entirety."

Although there are far older known cave engravings, including one in Java that is at least half-a-million years old, the team of researchers said the Blombos Cave hashtag was the oldest known drawing.

"This reinforces the idea that drawing was something that existed in the minds of the hunter-gatherers," Francesco d'Errico, a director of the National Centre for Scientific Research at the University of Bordeaux, told AFP.

While drawings such as the one unearthed in South Africa undoubtedly had a "symbolic meaning" d'Errico said early humans "probably didn't consider them as art."

© Agence France-Presse

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Chile's rock art llamas divulge secrets of ancient desert culture

ATACAMA (AFP).- Open air rock paintings in the world's driest desert pay testament to the importance of the llama to millennia-old cultures that traversed the inhospitable terrain.

Conservationists working in Chile's Atacama Desert want UNESCO to recognize the Taira Valley drawings as a heritage site so they can develop sustainable tourism in the region.

Taira is "a celebration of life," said archeologist Jose Bereguer, describing the site as "the most complex in South America" because of its astronomical importance as well as the significance to local shepherds.

The rock art was a "shepherd's rite" needed to ask the "deities that governed the skies and the earth" to increase their llama flocks.

First rediscovered by Swedish archeologist Stig Ryden in 1944, the Taira rock art is between 2,400 and 2,800 years old.

It is made up of a gallery of 16 paintings more than 3,000 meters (9,842 feet) above sea level on the banks of the Loa River that traverses the desert.

The jewel in the crown are the Alero Taira drawings some 30 meters from the Loa in a natural shelter, in which the importance of the llama becomes abundantly clear.

Not just the principal source of wealth for desert dwellers over thousands of years, the llama has been used in ritual ceremonies throughout the Andes for just as long, such as in the "Wilancha," or sacrifice to "Pacha Mama," or Mother Earth.

'Possible to delve'

"No one can understand the things done 18,000 years ago because the cultures that did them have disappeared," said Berenguer, curator at Santiago's Museum of Pre-Columbian Art.

"Here, it's possible to delve into the meaning because we have ethnography and because there are still people living in practically the same way as in the past."

According to Rumualda Galleguillos, one of around 15 indigenous people still raising llamas in the Atacama Desert like their ancestors, these pictures are a "testament" to forefathers who could neither read nor write.

Around 90 precent of the engravings, painted mainly in red but also ochre yellow and white, depict llamas of various sizes, some pregnant, others suckling their young.

But the remaining 10 percent depict the desert's diversity, such as foxes, snakes, ostriches, partridges and dogs.

The few human figures that appear are tiny, as if those painting them "wanted to go unnoticed in front of the greatness of animals that were so important to their economy," said Berenguer.

What the paintings also demonstrate is that 2,500 years ago, people were already studying the stars in an area that has more recently become the astronomy capital of the world with some of the most powerful telescopes ever built.

A book written in conjunction with the Atacama observatory called "The Universe of our Grandparents," claims that the ancient inhabitants of this area studied the stars to help learn how to domesticate the inhospitable desert and survive its dangers.

Seeing llamas

In this vision, the universe is made up of the skies and Earth as one whole, with the skies forming the horizon of life. What is seen in the skies is a reflection of what there is on Earth.

Unlike the Greeks, though, ancient Atacama astrologists didn't see Orion, Gemini or Cancer.

They saw llamas, their eyes, corrals, a loaded slingshot and a shepherd standing with his legs spread wide and arms in the air, worrying about foxes, said Silvia Lisoni, a professor of history and amateur astronomer.

Taira is located on an axis that aligns the sacred Sirawe "sandy eye" quicksand from where locals would pray for rain, the San Pedro volcano, the Colorado hill, and the Cuestecilla pampas, another sacred spot.

Volcanoes, like springs, were considered deities by the Atacama natives, while llamas were thought to have been born of springs.

The Alero Taira is positioned so that it is completely illuminated by the sun on both the winter and summer solstices.

"There's evidence that this site was built here for specific reasons," said Berenguer.

Taira is not the oldest example of rock art in this part of Chile, though. To the north in the copper mining Antofagasta region lies Kalina, around 1,000-1,200 years older than Taira, and Milla.

This style of art has been found also in the Puna de Atacama plateau in neighboring Argentina, but Taira "has few equals in terms of beauty and complexity," said Berenguer.

One day, he hopes that Taira will be afforded UNESCO World Heritage Site status like the rock art in the Cave of Altamira in Spain or France's Lascaux caves.

© Agence France-Presse

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Rare 1,500-year-old arrowhead found near the Dempster Highway in Yukon

Mike Rudyk · CBC News · Posted: Aug 30, 2018 5:42 PM CT | Last Updated: August 30

Jennifer Macgillivray had been trying to do a back country hike in Yukon's Tombstone region for a number of years.

This year, she finally had the chance, and the trip did not disappoint. Macgillivray made a rare archeological find on the trail — an ancient and rare caribou-antler arrowhead.

She and her son, with two friends, had been flown in to begin their hike near Mayo, Yukon. Over eight days, they traversed mountain ranges, eventually making their way toward the Dempster Highway.

"On the second-last day, we had just finished kind of a tough ridge walk," Macgillivray said.

"We were just coming down the ridge, and I found a little patch of gravel between two big blinds — kind of big snow blinds — and there was this arrowhead laying in the gravel."

When she got home, she reported her find to the Yukon government's heritage branch.

"We find lots of caribou hunting sites, but we've never found a bone or antler hunting artifact like this up in the Dempster corridor," said Christian Thomas, the government's special projects archeologist.

"It is extremely rare — it might be one of the only bone hunting artifacts we have."

Thomas says it is a unique find because hunting tools made of organic materials typically don't last long in harsh climates. Somehow, this arrowhead was preserved in ice.

Bow-and-arrow hunting technology started showing up in Yukon around 1,500 years ago, and Macgillivray's arrowhead is believed to date from then.

The area where she found it is in the overlapping traditional territories of the Tr'ondek Hwech'in and Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nations.

Macgillivray says it looked like a perfect place to hunt a caribou, a long time ago.

"It makes sense — especially where I found it, with the two big rocks on either side. It seems like the caribou might have passed down the centre there, and someone might hide behind a rock and shoot it. That's the story I'm telling myself," she said.

Macgillivray says they saw a lot of caribou roaming where they hiked, and "even got a little bit tired of caribou, there was just so many in that area."

'An archeology site we can investigate'

Thomas says Macgillivray did the right thing by reporting her find to the Yukon government's heritage branch. He says archeologists can now look for more artifacts nearby.

"This object is actually quite rare and because someone found it, it is an archeology site we can investigate," he said.

"Some of our best archeology projects have come from one find, that one hiker brought in."

For example, he says the Yukon ice patches project near Carcross — where researchers have found hundreds of hunting artifacts — started with "one stick that a hunter brought in."

Thomas says Macgillivray's arrowhead will help First Nations learn about the ancient technology their ancestors used to hunt big game.