|17 April 2004
Cave paintings were part of a continent-wide culture
The people who created the first surviving art in Britain were committed Europeans, belonging to a common culture spanning France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, according to the man who discovered the cave art in Creswell Crags, Nottinghamshire (England). The discovery of 13,000-year-old rock paintings in Nottinghamshire last year rewrote ice-age history in Britain. Archaeologists from all over Europe met in Creswell to discuss how the finds form part of a continent-wide culture known as the Magdalenian.
Paul Pettitt, of Sheffield University's archaeology department, said: "The Magdalenian era was the last time that Europe was unified in a real sense and on a grand scale." According to Mr Pettitt, the artists behind the Creswell paintings would have spent summers in the area feasting on migrating reindeer, but the winters on lowlands which now form the North sea or in the Netherlands or central Rhine areas. They would have kept in close contact, possibly through yearly meetings, with people in the middle Rhine, the Ardennes forest and the Dordogne. At the time it was possible to walk from Nottinghamshire to the Dordogne. "The importance of art for the Magdalenians is clear," said Mr Pettitt. "It helped to reaffirm their common cultural affiliation."
Of particular interest on the Cresweel paintings is a depiction of an ibex, an animal now only to be found in Europe in the Pyrenees. "Not one ice-age ibex bone has been found in Britain. The nearest ibex remains [from the period] were found in Belgium and mid-Germany," said Mr Pettitt. He said the most likely explanation is that Magdalenians saw ibexes elsewhere and painted them in Creswell as a reminder.
Other shapes found at Creswell were initially thought to be long-necked birds. "Looked at another way," said Mr Pettitt, "You see a naked women in profile, with jutting out buttocks and raised arms. It appears to be a picture of women doing a dance in which they thrust out their derrières. It's stylistically very similar to continental examples, and seems to demonstrate that Creswellians are singing and dancing in the same way as on the continent."
The cave complex and attendant museum attract 28,000 visitors a year. The museum trust has submitted a £4 million bid to the lottery heritage fund to improve access to the site. Jon Humble, inspector of ancient monuments for English Heritage, called it "the best and most successful example of an archaeology-led project for social and economic regeneration anywhere in the UK".
Source: The Guardian (15 April 2004)
Share this webpage: