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13 August 2004
The earliest nude in the history of British art?

Ice-age art discovered last year in caves at Creswell Crags, Derbyshire, England, may include the first representation of a nude figure in Britain.
    The image - carved 13,000 years ago - is part of a larger collection of animal drawings which are the first examples of ice-age cave art to come to light in Britain. Most late stone-age European cave art comes from France, Iberia and Italy.
    Dr Paul Pettitt, a former Oxford research fellow in human evolution now based at Sheffield University, said "There has always been a dogma that cave art is restricted to northern Spain and southern France and was possibly not undertaken by ice-age societies elsewhere in the upper Palaeolithic. When we think of cave art, we think of paintings, But over 90 per cent of cave art is shallow engraving less impressive visually and particularly difficult to see with untrained eyes."
    The figure, which to the untrained eye resembles a sock or a boomerang, may actually be birds depicted as highly-stylised representations of women, as Dr Pettit explained "To me, the more interesting ones are highly stylised depictions of naked females. We find these boomerang shapes which represented women bent-kneed, thrusting out their bottoms. I interpret at least two of those long-necked birds as women possibly some ritual dance undertaken by females, and possibly in the cave itself."
    Dr Pettit believes parallels can be seen in German prehistoric art, but his colleague, Dr Paul Bahn, an independent archaeologist regarded as Britain's top cave art expert, disagrees "This is not an exact science. Paul sees resemblances with schematic women, but the rest of us do not agree. I think four are birds, but one may be a woman."
    He continued "This is an extraordinary cave. We only have a tiny part available for us to examine just 14 square metres of ceiling and more than 50 figures. There are more beautiful ones, but this is a rich and interesting cave of international significance."

Source: The Daily Telegraph (28 July 2004)

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