Countless tales are hidden in our ancestors' oldest caves. National Geographic Explorer & Photographer Stephen Alvarez is hosting a one-day talk and photo exhibit, and would like you to join him on a journey back in time to our ancestor’s prehistoric lives.
"A Private Audience & Photo Exhibition by Stephen Alvarez"
Date: 12th Sept 2017, 6.30pm
Venue: Zuleika Gallery 3rd Floor, 6 Mason’s Yard, St James’s, London SW1Y 6BU
Tickets:here, proceeds benefit the Ancient Art Archive.
In a scene that could almost have come out of an Ancient Art Archive presentation, Jon and Daenerys view ancient art in a cave.
"They were right here, standing where we are standing..."
The art bit starts around 2:40.
Now to my eye, those engravings look a little too fresh to be ancient, and Jon Snow's motives might not make him the most objective observer. If I were Daenerys I wouldn't assume that they were genuinely old until the Uranium / Thorium or Carbon 14 dates came back and were peer reviewed.
Hundreds, thousands of years exposed to the elements often leave ancient art hard to see. Famous sites like Chauvet, Altamira and the Great Gallery are well preserved but some important rock and cave art sites are weathered almost beyond recognition. How do we see rock art that is mostly weathered away? Mathematics, NASA and rock art enthusiast Jon Harman have a solution. It is an image analytic program Harman developed called DStretch.
Barrier Canyon Style Petroglyphs in a side canyon of Ferron Creek. Emery County, Utah. See what it looks like after DStretch on the next page.
The program uses a method called decorrelation stretch, which was originally used by NASA to improve remote sensing images of Mars. DStretch takes the NASA algorithm but optimizes it for rock art. The program analyzes photographs of rock art sites, and then shifts the images’ color to highlight designs and patterns that have faded away or otherwise become invisible to the naked eye by providing more contrast within the image. The program is especially useful when it comes to faded colors, particularly reds, yellows, blacks, and whites, but it is also works on etchings and other rock art forms. The results are a false color image that is often much more detailed than the original.
The story of human migration from Africa into the rest of the world is the original story of exploration. Those first people who walked out of Africa and into the vast unpopulated world told their story of exploration on rock and cave walls as they went. The timeline for that tale has been refined by looking at the DNA our ancestors left behind (more on that in another post). But that same DNA is also showing that the human migration is not as straightforward as we once believed.
Prevailing evidence is that modern humans expanded out from Africa between 70,000 and 50,000 BP. Our ancestors encountered and replaced dwindling Neanderthal populations in Europe.
However, some Neanderthal lives on in us. With the exception of native Africans, most people have up to 2% Neanderthal DNA.
That story got a bit more muddled this month. A study published in Nature Communications -summarized nicely in the NYT here- suggests that there was a "flow" of genetic material into Neanderthal populations from Africa before 100,000 years ago. That means that humans, or something very similar to us, entered Europe and interbred with Neanderthals leaving a slight genetic trace in Neaderthal DNA.
The Ancient Art Archive launched and Instagram account! Humanity's newest social media platform seemed like the perfect place to Explore the Humanity's oldest stories. In the feed, we post images and videos from the Archive and also pictures from the field.
A post shared by Ancient Art Archive (@ancientartarchive) on
It is a great addition to our Facebook page. The stories we are recording on rock and cave walls around the planet are Humanity's first social media. These new platforms bring our first stories to a new audience.
This week we had a very successful fundraiser hosted by Arts Atlanta (see their article on the archive here). During the event board member, Jan Simek and I gave an overview of how making art became a vital part of the human survival strategy, what the sites look like
and how we are using the newest imaging technologies to preserve the world's oldest images.
"A Generous Donor will match* any contributions to the Archive given in the next week"
Thank you to all who attended. Particular thanks to those who contributed to support our efforts to explore and preserve humanity's oldest stories! A very generous donor has agreed to match any contributions made between now and July 6th. So you can still receive a signed 6x9" print of Ten Negative Handprints for contributions of $100 or more and have your money go twice as far!
Negative handprints in Fish Canyon, Bears Ears National Monument, Utah
Ten negative handprints in Fish Canyon, Bears Ears National Monument, Utah
If there is a single symbol that could stand for all of humanity it is the negative handprint. I've seen the negative handprint reproduced on 6 continents and across all ages of human creativity. From the Paleolithic to modern times the images persists in our visual vocabulary. They may well be the very first artistic expression. To me, they are the original 'selfie' the very first way that people recorded their passage. That urge to leave a visual mark that says "I was here" is uniquely human. Read more
Serpentine figure Painted Bluff, Marshall County Alabama circa AD 1400
Painted Bluff is one of the most significant open air rock art sites in the Southeastern United States. It's red ochre paintings occupy a towering, 400-foot high limestone bluff with commanding views of the Tennessee River. For centuries the site has acted as a beacon drawing prehistoric and historic travels along the Tennessee River corridor. Although often marred by spalling and historic graffiti, the site contains over 80 individual images.
"Painted Bluff Towers of the Tennessee River"
One of the most impressive is a long serpentine red ochre painting that overlays a previous and very faded circle. On top of both the circle and the serpentine figure is a clear human form.
Carbon 14 analysis of a river cane torch recovered from the bluff yields an approximate date of AD 1400 and the assumption is that most of the older painting come from that era. However, the bluff is a conspicuous stopping point and passageway along the river corridor. Painting and drawing clearly continue into modern times. Read more
Artists who created the ancient masterpieces that we appreciate today—cave paintings, murals on cliff walls, countless carvings, and other artifacts—left no written records about the worlds in which they lived. This often makes it difficult to know when they lived. Fortunately, modern technology has helped scientists develop several dating methods to accurately date ancient art sites.
Scientists used carbon 14 dating to determine that the charcoal used at Chauvet was over 30,000 years old