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Perhaps one of the most frustrating things about our visits to various caves is the “no photography” rule — you can’t take pictures of the cave art. I can understand it from a conservation point of view, and because each tour would have to be extended to give everyone enough time to take photos. But it’s still a frustrating rule.
I mention this only to explain that the image at the top of this post isn’t the result of a surreptitious shot. At Pech-Merle, a large reproduction of the famous Dotted Horse panel graces a wall where the tours begin, and we’re invited to photograph it. I suspect it’s a sneaky way to give us what we want, and it worked — the clicking of our cameras almost drown out the beginning of the presentation.

The panel of horses at Pech-Merle is one of the finest examples of Paleolithic cave art known. They certainly rank up there with the art in Altamira and Lascaux, but unlike these two caves, the public is still able to visit Pech-Merle and view the original art (rather than reproductions). Cesar says that Niaux, our last cave on this trip, will blow everything else away (okay, so he’s an excitable Spaniard, and he didn’t use those exact words, but that’s what he meant). However, we’re skeptical because what we’ve seen so far has been pretty amazing.

It’s thought that the beautiful Pech-Merle horses were painted about 25,000 years ago. Other paintings in that cave may be a few thousand years more recent. The magnificent cave art in Lascaux is believed to be some 17,000 years old, while in Altamira, the major pieces of art are estimated at 15,000 years of age. But these dates may be in jeopardy.

According to Cesar, studies using new dating techniques are about to be published that show the commonly accepted dates for the creation of artwork in many of the European caves is wrong. Wrong by many thousands of years. Wrong by virtue of being older than we thought. So it’s possible the horses we saw today may have been painted 26,000 or 28,000 or maybe even 30,000 years ago — or more.

He also pointed out is that these earlier dates, if true, could wreak havoc with our theories regarding the interaction of Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal. We currently think Cro-Magnons co-existed with Neanderthals in Spain and France for some 10,000 to 15,000 years. If the dates of the paintings are pushed back, it means Cro-Magnon may lived in this region longer than we thought, and hence the amount of time the two groups of hominids interacted might also be longer than currently believed.
Of course, all this is speculation until the peer-reviewed papers are published. Still, it’s interesting times in the world of paleontology.

Written by: Paul Deans – TQ Editor

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