A French rock art controversy that unfolded through 1996 and early
1997 has received coverage in the European media.
Emilia Masson, of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
and based at an institute of semiotic studies, has proposed in 1994
that some rock paintings she claimed to have discovered in a small
cave high in the French Alps were evidence of a cosmogonic
(astrophysical) cult.
The site is near the famous petroglyphs of Mont Bego, which have
been studied by Professor Henry de Lumley since 1967.
He had interpreted the site in 1976 as having been connected
with a bull cult.
Masson, who began her work in 1991, not only disagreed with him,
her work implied that he had overlooked evidence, or failed to
interpret it. De Lumley, in response, dismissed her interpretations,
which are described as spontaneous: she would look at a rock face
after being attracted by it as if by a magnet and would then see
in it a face, 50 m high.
This was her pointer to the presence of a sacred cave, which she
then took two years to locate.
De Lumley's team has recorded this site years ago, finding in
it some petroglyphs, which Masson failed to find.
She in turn accused him of not finding her paintings earlier,
but when she returned to the site to demonstrate the point,
she reported that the paintings had disappeared.
They had been scraped off, vandalised, presumably to discredit her.
But in the process of this, the vandals had exposed petroglyphs
which had emerged beneath the paintings! Two independent 'experts'
were then called in, who reported finding no trace of paint,
petroglyphs or evidence of vandalism. Ms Masson then complained
to the minister for culture, saying the report was part of a
campaign to create obstacles for her 'research'.
She also accuses the Academy of Sciences that it is delaying
publication of her reply to Professor de Lumley, preventing
her to exercise her right of reply.
He had reported, together with fourteen colleagues, that the
circular motifs she claims to be paint consist of an algal species,
Trentepholia diffracta, and that there are in fact no petroglyphs present.
Masson then challenged her opponents' right to examine the cave,
claiming that she had an exclusive permit to study 'her' site.
This is an all too familiar pattern. The first Palaeolithic rock
art ever reported from the British Isles was published in one of
the world's leading journals in 1981.
An engraving was reported to have been inlaid with a green substance,
'probably malachite'. The green substance turned out to be algae,
and the engraving was a perfectly natural groove.
The point is not why these half-baked ideas are voiced,
but how it is possible for them to appear in print, to receive
serious consideration from a supposedly rigorous discipline.
Presumably there is peer review along the way, so to account for
these occurrences we have to assume that there is an adequate
level of incompetence in academia to make them possible.
It must be remembered that such affairs tend to be very
wasteful, and if every von Däniken-style commentator in the world
demanded the right of reply, archaeological publishing would deal
with nothing but the outpourings of people with vivid imaginations.
Robert G. Bednarik