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Hunter-Gatherers' Earliest Depiction of Social Scene? Paleo Engraving is Likely That, Says Study

Dec 03, 2015 06:52 PM EST
Engraved schist, Spain
This is a close-up of one of several engraved pieces of schist from a cave in northeastern Spain. Researchers say it is likely a depiction of a campsite, based on their archaeological and ethnographic analysis.
(Photo : García-Diez et al.)

In what may be the earliest image of a human social group, a 13,000 year-old engraving found in a schist slab in northeast Spain seems to be a depiction of a hunter-gatherer campsite.

On the slab are seven semicircular images. They have internal lines and are in two rows. They seem to represent huts, say researchers with the University of the Basque Country and the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES), according to a release.

For Paleolithic art, this is quite rare. The art from that time hardly ever represents landscapes or the everyday world. The engraving was found at Molí del Salt, which is a rock shelter in the Ebro River Basin, not far from the Pyrenees.

The researchers published their findings recently in the journal PLOS ONE.

The team also learned that the seven images were engraved in a short time, using a similar instrument and method.
After analyzing the composition and each motif, along with the context in ethnography and archaeology, the team says that the engraving is, indeed, likely showing a hunter-gatherer campsite.

Spain is known for its large and comfortably high-ceilinged caverns, where early humans gathered. Later cavern images were very detailed in the way of the more famous caves in France, often depicting humans and horses, as the book The Horse: The Epic History of Our Noble Companion (Scientific American/Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2015) notes. 

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-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales

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