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Dr. George Nash, University of Bristol – Oldest UK Cave Art Discovered

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. George Nash of the University of Bristol recounts his discovery of what could be the United Kingdom’s oldest example of cave art.

George Nash is a visiting fellow in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol and an associate professor at the Spiru Haret University in Bucharest, Romania. He has studied rock art around the world for 22 years and is currently involved in four major rock-art recording and interpretation projects in Malaysia, northern Italy, northern Sardinia, and Western Britain. In 2013 he will be undertaking further fieldwork in Brazil, Italy, Sardinia and South Wales.

About Dr. Nash

Dr. George Nash – Oldest UK Cave Art Discovered

It was one of those occasions where for once I had the right equipment and I was in the right place at the right time. On September 10th 2010, myself and a party of ex-students from the University of Bristol visited Cathole Cave, one of several inland caves on the Gower Coast in South Wales. It was here that I made the discovery of a life time. Hidden within a tight niche in the rear section of the cave was an engraving of a stylised cervid, possibly a reindeer. For me, identification was instant, having previously studied post-Palaeolithic engraved cervids on open air panels in Sweden and central Norway. Following discovery, the various heritage agencies were notified and the process of verifying the discovery began.

The engraving, measuring around 15 x 10 cm appears to have been engraved with a flint point by an artist using his or her right hand (this assumption is based on the position of the niche in relation to other rock surfaces within the niche).

What makes this a spectacular discovery is that part of the engraving is covered by a stal or speleotherm deposit which can be dated using a method known as Uranium Series dating. This part of the project was left in the capable hands of colleagues Dr Louise Thomas and Dr Peter van Calsteren from the Open University. Further analysis on the geological formation of the cave was undertaken by karst geologist Dr Mike Simms from the Museum of Northern Ireland.

Four samples were taken from the speleotherm deposit, two of which revealed minimum dates for the engraving; the first of these was 12,572 + 570 years before present, whilst the second revealed a date of 14,505 + 350 years before present. These two dates makes this discovery the oldest engraved rock art in North Western Europe, and extends the chronological range of hunter-gatherer communities roaming a harsh post-glacial environment.

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