The First Cave Art from the Balkans May Date Back 30,000 Years

Live Science | 4/11/2019 | Staff
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Inside of a cave overlooking the blue-green waters of Croatia's northern coast, archaeologists have found wall paintings that date back to the Upper Paleolithic period.

While prehistoric cave art is plentiful in western Europe, the discovery marks the first time cave art of this age has been documented in the Balkans. The reddish paintings, which depict a bison and ibex, could have been created more than 30,000 years ago, scientists reported Wednesday (April 10) in the journal Antiquity.

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The paintings were documented inside Romualdova Pećina, a deep cave extending to a depth of 360 feet (110 meters) along a canyon-like estuary known as the Limski Kanal. During the Upper Paleolithic period, Europe would have been colder than it is today and sea levels were lower. So anyone who took shelter in Romualdova Cave would have looked out onto a river that flowed toward a vast, fertile plain (where the Adriatic Sea is today).

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The study's author Aitor Ruiz-Redondo, an archaeologist at the University of Southampton in the U.K., started looking for cave art in the region as part of a French-funded project. Ruiz-Redondo and his colleagues surveyed more than 60 prehistoric caves and rock shelters across Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia; Romualdova Cave was one of just two sites that had clear evidence of Palaeolithic rock art.

The cave art is not so well preserved. The paintings had been applied to a fossilized calcite layer of the cave wall, which has crumbled away in some areas. Graffiti from the late 19th century and early 20th century has obscured some of the motifs, and the cave was not protected by local heritage authorities until recently.

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