|PALAEOLITHIC ROCK ART IN THE ALPS?|
PALAEOLITHIC ROCK ART IN THE ALPS?
Claims of Pleistocene age for much younger rock art are by no means
restricted to Portugal, they are a common feature in archaeology.
We have many examples from a number of coun-tries in Eurasia.
One that has also recently been proposed relates to petroglyphs
in the north-eastern Alps in Austria.
Numerous caves are found in this part of the Alps, the Northern
Limestone Belt that passes through the state of Upper Austria.
Many of these caves contain massive deposits of Pleistocene
faunal remains, often dominated by those of the cave bear (Ursus spelaeus).
A few have also yielded stone tools, sometimes together with
these bone beds. None of these cave occupations has been properly
dated, some may be Middle or even Lower Palaeolithic, but most
are thought to belong to a very early phase of the Upper Palaeolithic,
and are probably in the order of 30 000 years old.
So far, none of the Alpine caves have provided any art objects,
although four portable objects of the Upper Palaeolithic occupation
along the Danube and near it (Willendorf, Galgenberg and Gudenus Cave)
have been found in Lower Austria.
Two rock art sites deep in the mountains of the northern Alps have
been ascribed to Pleistocene artists, Höll-Stubwiewipfel in the Warscheneck
mountains and the Kienbachklamm near St. Wolfgang.
At the former site, this includes four simple head outlines of animals,
apparently of elk and chamois.
The second site is said to comprise rough outlines of two mammoths,
a few cervid heads (of roedeer apparently), and two motifs that are
interpreted as depicting reclining female nudes, vaguely reminiscent
of those at La Magdelaine in France.
There are numerous petroglyph sites in the northern Alps, but none
of the art occurs within caves.
It is found in shelters, canyons and at the entrances of caves.
It seems generally agreed that most or all of this art is of the
Historic period, and most has been attributed to the late Middle
Ages and more recent times.
The basis of this is the depiction of various characteristic objects,
including early firearms and other weapons, inscriptions
(which are often dated), and other motifs relating to local history.
The figures at the two sites occur among many others in this general,
but very diverse repertoire of motifs, and out of this jumble of
superimposed marks, a few were selected and pronounced to be of the Pleistocene.
In the case of the animal heads, this seems to have been because they
were perceived to be of Palaeolithic style.
The female figures are so vague that their identification is quite
arbitrary, and it even requires a good deal of imagination to see
a few possibly artificial grooves as such depictions.
This leaves us with the mammoths.
On close examination it seems that a few curved lines were selected
from several artificial as well as natural grooves, resembling trunks
and vague head profiles.
However, when these arrangements are seen in the context of the
numerous markings surrounding them they appear quite fortuitous.
Moreover, all of these petroglyphs occur on limestone cliffs that
are exposed to weathering processes.
It is clear from the Historical sequence and the actual engraved
dates we have on this rock type that after four or five centuries
even the most deeply carved designs begin to become unrecog-nisable.
In unsheltered locations, petroglyphs cannot be expected to survive
as much as a millennium or two on this rock, let alone a dozen or more.
Limestone retreats 2 - 20 mm per thousand years in the central European
climate, so any petroglyphs that may have existed on these rocks 20
millennia ago might have been as much as 40 cm above the present rock
surface! They would have disappeared ages ago, and the claims by
Austrian archaeologists that there is Pleistocene art at these
two sites is geologically absurd.
It is simply the result of wishful thinking, and the mere proximity
of Palaeolithic occupation sites, a few dozen kilometres away,
has no bearing on the age of this rock art.
Robert G. Bednarik