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Contents Introduction Aviform Circle Claviform Cordiform Crosshatch Cruciform Cupule Dot Fan-Shape (Flabelliform) Finger Fluting Half-Circle Hand Stencil Handprint Line Open-Angle Oval Pectiform Penniform Quadrangle Reniform Scalariform Serpentiform Spiral Tectiform Triangle Unciform W-sign Zigzag Other Caves with Signs The oldest known cave painting is an abstract sign (a red-ochre disk or dot) discovered at the El Castillo Cave in Cantabria, Spain, which dates back to at least 39,000 BCE.Not far from El Castillo is another ancient Spanish rock shelter known as Altamira Cave, where two abstract symbols (club-shaped images known as claviforms) have been dated to at least 34,000 BCE.It is true of course that very little prehistoric art is considered to be "art for art's sake": even animal pictures are interpreted as pictographs with their own messages to convey. The point is, that what used to be thought of as trivial doodles, scribbles or test markings, may actually be Stone Age man's first attempts to communicate through symbols rather than pictures.If so, a whole new branch of Paleolithic art may be about to open up.Incidence is widespread with signs being found in the Ardeche, along the Pyrenees, and in the Perigord. Prevalence and Location Hand stencils appear in caves and rock shelters, and on rock surfaces throughout the prehistoric world. When withdrawn, it leaves a coloured imprint of the hand (or palmprint) on the rock wall. As in the case of hand stencils, the differing shapes and features of handprints enable them to convey different meanings, and thus may act as a primitive kind of sign-language.Elsewhere they are found in south Australia - see Koonalda Cave Art (18,000 BCE) - Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Examples Prehistoric sites of "Finger Fluting" include: - Altamira Cave, Antillana del Mar, Cantabria, Spain. Curiously, they often appear in conjunction with dots: see, for example, the El Castillo Cave paintings in Cantabria, Spain. - Rouffignac Cave, Rouffignac-Saint-Cernin-de-Reilhac, Dordogne. Good examples of handprints appear among the Cosquer Cave paintings (c.25,000 BCE).
Examples Paleolithic rock shelters that contain "Crosshatch Signs", include: - Blombos Cave, South Africa - Diepkloof Cave, South Africa - Gorham's Cave, Gibraltar - Gabillou Cave, Valley of l'Isle, Mussidan, Dordogne. After almost disappearing during the Solutrean, cupules returned with a vengeance during the Magdalenian era.
- Laugerie Basse Cave, Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, Dordogne.
- Oreille d'Enfer Cave, Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, Dordogne. Characteristics As the name suggests these signs are shaped like a fan - not unlike the geometric symbol for an open angle but with extra interior lines emanating from the apex.
Examples Prehistoric caves that contain "Aviforms", include: - Altamira Cave, Antillana del Mar, Cantabria, Spain. - La Pasiega Cave, Puente Viesgo, Cantabria, Spain. Examples Stone Age caves that contain "Circles", include: - Abri Castanet, Sergeac, Dordogne. See the oldest claviforms in the Altamira Cave paintings (c.34,000 BCE). Dating The few cordiforms that do exist were created across a wide time-span.
Dating Not unlike Aviforms, most claviforms in France date from about 20,000 BCE onwards, first appearing in the Solutrean, before becoming increasingly popular with Magdalenian cave artists between 15,000 and 10,000 BCE. - Les Combarelles Cave, Les Eyzies de Tayac, Dordogne. The first instance occurred in the Aurignacian, aound 30,000 BCE; the other two instances in the Magdalenian, the last period of Upper Paleolithic culture. Prevalence and Location Crosshatch signs are found in roughly 18 percent of French sites, notably in the French Pyrenees.To begin with, they appeared only in south-east France, but then spread out before concentrating during the Magdalenian into two large groupings - one in the Dordogne/Lot area, the other in the French Pyrenees. They are also sometimes referred to as "traces digitaux" or finger tracings, or "macaroni". Examples Prehistoric caves that contain "Half-Circle symbols", include: - Cougnac Cave, Gourdon, Lot. As a result, it is quite conceivable that they represent some kind of simple sign language - possibly with a hunting connection, due to their proximity to animal paintings.Examples Ice Age caves that contain "Fan-Shaped signs" (Flabelliforms), include: - Labastide Cave, Hautes-Pyrenees. Prevalence and Location Finger flutings are found at approximately 16 percent of all French sites. See for instance the hand images around the famous "Dappled Horses" panel, the most famous of the Pech Merle Cave paintings (c.25,000 BCE). - Cave of Hands (La Cueva de las Manos) Patagonia, Argentina. Characteristics This sort of hand sign is made by coating the hand (or palm) in pigment and then pressing it against the surface of the rock.Most of the remaining symbols were found in about 20 percent of the caves.