I have selected 12 images for a portfolio of prints to help support the Ancient Art Archive. Each image is limited to 12 prints each. Once they are sold there will be no more. The images are approximately 21" x 33" on 2 x 4-foot paper.
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
There are Basketmaker engravings on the floor of this cave in Comb Wash in the new Bears Ears National Monument. The engravings themselves are pretty spectacular. Deer, anthropomorphs, animal tracks, foot prints all rendered in that peculiar basketmaker style. The location and the carvings are incredible and they speak to a very different time in this part of Utah.
Check out the 3D models (after the break) to get an idea of the density and complexity of the art on this cave floor.
Great Gallery of Horseshoe Canyon, Wayne County Utah. The Great Gallery is the "type site" for Barrier Canyon Style rock art
On the way back from a spring scouting trip to the Comb Wash / Bears Ears area of Utah I stopped to shoot a new model of the Great Gallery of Horseshoe Canyon. I had built a model last year but it did not include the entire panel. It also had some holes in the data that I thought I could clear up. This one has the whole alcove. There figures on the left beyond the debris pile. One of them closely resembles the Moqui Queen. If you have the chance, it is worth looking at this at full screen on a high-resolution monitor. A Microsoft Surface works particularly well.
Rock art is notoriously hard to date and BCS art age estimates range from Archaic (4,000-8,000 BP) to pre Fremont (500BCE-500BCE). The National Park Service has a free book on the archeology of Horseshoe Canyon available here that puts the date for BCS production at around 2,000 BCE.
Some things to note in the site and model
The tallest figure is 2.15 meters tall
The Panel is 65 meters end to end
The alcove is 33 meters high and 12 meters deep
The model is built from 247 high resolution DSLR images and assembled in Agisoft Photoscan
Imagine this. You are squeezing through tight passages where your body barely fits. You are surrounded by darkness and navigating by torchlight. If your light dies you are stranded.
Seeing some of the ancient art sites is not easy work. Just look at what a leading Spanish anthropologist is willing to go through in order to document paleolithic art in the Northern Spain. Being underground is hard. It is dark, it is often cold and wet. It is an inhospitable realm.
Alistair Pike discusses the work he has done with Dirk Hoffmann in dating the cave paintings of Northern Spain in this short video that I shot for National Geographic. The open question that Pike is trying to answer in his research is are all the cave paintings of Europe Human or are some of them Neanderthal?
Its an interesting question. Neanderthals certainly could have produced some art, but there is not overwhelming evidence that they did. Refined dating techniques have pushed the age of the first paintings in Europe back. The oldest paintings are now known to be older than 40,000 years. But by the same token refinements in tracing migration by looking at the human genome indicate that homo sapiens sapiens first entered Europe 55,000 years ago. So the current oldest painting in El Castillo in Spain is well within the date range that modern humans occupied Europe.
Proving that Neanderthals made art will take a very old painting indeed.
There is a story about Ancient Art and Pablo Picasso. The story is that he once visited Altamira, the famous Paleolithic cave in Northern Spain. Picasso was said to have emerged from the cave shaking his head. When questioned about his reaction to the art Picasso -the leading modern artist of his time- replied
“In 15,000 years we have invented nothing.”
The story is probably apocryphal. But like many such stories, there is more than a grain of truth in it. One of the reasons that I launched the Ancient Art Archive is that I was so overwhelmed by how sophisticated some of the very earliest art is. I walked into a cave in France and emerged knowing that Paleolithic people thought just like we do, that visual communication is inherent to our survival strategy.
Over my years of documenting Ancient Art, I have seen how sophisticated ancient people’s artistic sensibilities are.
The news this month that pointillism was developed at least 38,000 years ago is very interesting. NYU’s Randall White led excavations in the Vézère Valley of SW France. The digs uncovered limestone tablets that used a pointillist technique to engrave mammoths and horses.
The work is originally reported in the Quaternary Journal (here) and discussed at length in the press (Smithsonian, NYT).
Our work with the Ancient Art Archive is entirely supported by donations.
The Cottonwood Panel -also known as the Great Hunt Panel- is the most famous piece of rock art in Nine Mile Canyon. Nine Mile Canyon is a 40 mile long canyon in Carbon and Duchesne Counties that is festoon with thousands of rock art sites. Its estimated that there are more thatn ten thousand individual images in the canyon. The majority of petroglyphs in Nine Mile are Fremont age artworks like the Cottonwood Panel. However, ages in the canyon range from Desert Archaic to Modern. That is almost 10,000 years of artistic history.
Located on a prominent spit of land above Muddy Creek and a side canyon, the Rochester Rock art panel is an extremely complex site. It incorporates images from the Fremont culture to historic times so the art varies in age from 2,000 years old to modern. The panel sees a lot of visitation and hence there has been a lot of damage over the years.