Thursday, August 16, 2007

Of mammoths and cheese

I followed the headline "Ancient Drawing Of Mammoth Found In Cheddar Caves" expecting to find a new and exciting pareidola phenomenon like the Holy Eggplant of Boothwyn, but it's actually a story about a paleolithic drawing in a normal rock cave. Nevertheless, I'm always game for new evidence of our ancestors hanging out with mammoths.
The engraving, which is difficult to see owing to some degradation of the rock surface since the last Ice Age, appears to be an outline drawing of a mammoth made by the addition of what is believed to be humanly engraved lines to some natural features of the rock, a technique which is well-known from the famous French and Spanish decorated caves.

Graham Mullan said: "Unlike our previous finds of abstract designs in the caves in this area, this is a clear representation of an animal. We are more confident that at least part of it was humanly made and the subject material places it firmly in the latter part of the last Ice Age. Finds of mammoth ivory of that age have been made in this cave in the past indicating that these animals would have been known to the inhabitants.

"Although the cave has been studied by many archaeologists, this engraving has previously escaped notice because it is quite difficult to make out. For this reason, a careful study has been made and this announcement was delayed until we were reasonably confident of the attribution."


Jill Cook, Deputy Keeper in the Department said: "Had I been shown this outline of a mammoth during a visit to one of the well known cave art sites in France or Spain, I would have nodded and been able to accept it in the context of other more obvious pictures. At Gough’s, or anywhere in England, it is not so easy. Cave art is so rare here that we must always question and test to make sure we are getting it right."

In the photograph accompanying the article, I'm not sure which curve is supposed to be the mammoth. I can point to two possibilities. I hope that it's more obvious to those actually present, or else we might be dealing with nothing more than wishful thinking pareidola, much like Jack Cuozzo's drawing of battling mammoths and dinosaurs.

But probability is on their side. Cheddar is one of the richest archaeological areas in Britain and is home to Cheddar Man, the oldest complete human skeleton so far discovered in the British Isles, and other signs of human habitation back to the end of the last ice age. It's also home to sites from the Saxon and Roman settlements as well as megaliths.

As any student of British archaeology knows, wherever there are megaliths, there will also be students of Atlantean Ley lines and other archaeological woo. Cheddar is no different in this respect. So maybe there will be a British Jack Cuozzo to give their new mammoth the cheesy over-interpretation it deserves.

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