Amateur archaeologist solves Ice Age mystery

Lascaux painting
Lascaux animal painting. Image: public domain

Dots, lines, and Y-shaped markings on 20,000-year-old wall paintings of animals made by hunter-gatherers: archaeologists knew they must mean something, but what?

Ben Bacon, a furniture maker and amateur archaeologist from London, was faced with the same question and became fascinated by the images made by our ancestors during the Weichselien period, in the last Ice Age. He studied the hundreds of images of cattle and fish drawn thousands of years ago in caves in Lascaux (France) and Altamira (Spain) among others, in the hope of discovering a pattern.

Lunar calendars

The Brit eventually came up with the idea of looking at the markings according to the lunar calendar and the birth cycles of similar contemporary animals. It led to a remarkable discovery: the signs seemed to be related to the mating time of the depicted animals. The Y-sign that can be seen on some drawings was, according to Bacon, a way of indicating birth: two lines indeed come together in one line.

Official recognition

Bacon approached academics with his theory and decided to work with a team of researchers from two universities. They published their findings yesterday in the prestigious Cambridge Archaeological Journal. The conclusion: Bacon was right with his theory. The team demonstrated a statistically significant correlation between the number of signs, the position of the Y-sign, and the months in which the animals mate and give birth.”

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