Sun, Jul 06, 2003 - Page 7 News List

UK cave painting turns ice-age artistry on its head

THE GUARDIAN , NOTTINGHAMSHIRE, ENGLAND

The shadowy work of Britain's oldest known artist has been rediscovered after 120 centuries, in a find that turns the history of the country's first inhabitants upside down.

Specialist detective work in a dank cave in the English midlands has shattered the 300-year-old belief that no British cave paintings exist, in contrast to the wealth of stylized animals, birds and tribesmen found on mainland Europe.

"It was an amazing moment when we traced the lines -- invisible without special lighting -- and found we were looking at an ibex-like creature," said Paul Pettitt of Oxford University, who made the discovery with British and Spanish colleagues.

"It fills in one of the biggest gaps in Britain's history, and puts an end to the debate about whether ice-age inhabitants had cultural contacts with the rest of Europe," he said.

The ibex, along with scratched birds and geometrical patterns in Church Hole, Mother Grundy's Parlour and Robin Hood caves at Creswell Crags in Nottinghamshire, England, has been dated to 12,000BC, largely through the "semi-twisted perspective" style of the unknown artist.

"It is a beautiful piece of work by someone with real feeling for the animal," said Paul Bahn, a member of the team and the UK's leading ice-age art specialist.

"The delicate line of the animal's throat and the feeling of movement compare with the best in the world. Cave artists from France and Spain, the home of Europe's most celebrated paintings, would have recognized a fellow master," he said.

The archaeologists are confident that they have not been fooled like predecessors whose claims to the same momentous discoveries of ice-age art ended with red faces.

Among blunders in the past was the sensation over marks in a Welsh coastal cave which turned out to be the work of a fisherman touching up his boat and drying the paintbrush.

"We can date these through the style," said Sergio Ripoli, of Uned University, Madrid.

He added: "But we also know that we are not dealing with fakers. Graffiti from the last century is still raw, but the ibex, the birds and the other drawings have been patinated over time. It is as though the lines of the drawing have been varnished."

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