Archaeologists using uranium-series dating technique have found that a reindeer engraved on the wall of a cave in South Wales dates from about 14,505 years ago.
The engraving was discovered in September 2010 by Dr George Nash of the University of Bristol’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology while he was exploring the rear section of Cathole Cave, a limestone cave on the eastern side of an inland valley on the Gower Peninsula, South Wales.
Found to the rear of the cave on a small vertical limestone niche, the engraved cervid – probably a stylized reindeer – is shown side-on and measures approximately 15 x 11cm. It was carved using a sharp-pointed tool, probably made of flint, by an artist using his or her right hand. The animal’s elongated torso has been infilled with irregular-spaced vertical and diagonal lines, whilst the legs and stylized antlers comprise simple lines.
The reindeer was engraved over a mineral deposit known as a speleothem (cave formation), which itself developed over a large piece of limestone. Extending over the left side of the figure is a flowstone deposit (speleothem cover) which extends across part of the animal’s muzzle and antler set.
In April 2011, scientists from the NERC-Open University Uranium-Series Facility extracted three samples from the surface of the speleothem covering the engraving. One of these samples produced a minimum date of 12,572 years ago. A further sample, taken in June 2011 from the same flowstone deposit, revealed a minimum date of 14,505 years ago. The results appear in the Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society.
“The earlier date is comparable with uranium-series dating of flowstone that covers engraved figures within Church Hole Cave at Creswell along the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border. However, the new minimum date of 14,505 + 560 years ago makes the engraved reindeer in South Wales the oldest rock art in the British Isles, if not North-western Europe,” Dr Nash explained.
Bibliographic information: Nash GH, Simms MJ, Thomas L and van Calsteren P. 2012. A discovery of possible Upper Palaeolithic parietal art in Cathole Cave, Gower penninsula, south Wales. Proc. Univ. Bristol Spelaeol Soc. 25(3), pp 327-336