What was once considered one of the earliest pieces of art ever created in Germany may in fact turn out to be the world’s very first forgery, after researchers suggested that ancient markings found in the Mäanderhöhle cave were probably not made by the humans to which they were previously attributed.
OK, calling it a forgery may not be entirely accurate either, as the lines were not made by a devious prankster trying to pass them off as ancient cave art, but you get what we mean.
According to Julia Blumenröther, who examined the supposed drawings while conducting her Master’s thesis at Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany, they were probably produced by natural causes. This idea directly contradicts the conclusions of the archaeologists who originally examined the markings following their discovery in 2005, and who claimed that the lines – thought to be between 14,000 and 16,000 years old – were man-made depictions of objects related to fertility.
A preliminary report produced by the team described drawings of a man, a woman and a phallus, proving that man’s love of drawing penises is nothing new. However, while the authors of the report suggested that these images were probably created using a sharp tool, Blumenröther and her colleague Andreas Pastoors have now challenged the whole theory.
“If these lines were made by humans, there would be clear evidence that Stone Age tools were used, as well as similar depictions in other locations,” explained Pastoors. The fact that neither of these are to be found in the area around the 75-meter (246-foot) cave would therefore seem to suggest the markings – which were found on mineral deposits known as cave clouds – may not be ancient art after all.
Even more compelling evidence was then provided by Blumenröther herself, who used digital microscopy and structure-light 3D scans to create digital reconstructions of 138 of these lines. By comparing these to other known examples of cave art, as well as lines created in the laboratory using sharp tools similar to those that cave men would have used, she concluded that it is highly unlikely that they were made by hand.
“The scientific analysis showed that the courses and cross-sections of all of the lines contradict the hypothesis that they were carved by humans using a hard, sharp object,” she explained. “Furthermore, none of the 138 lines depict any kind of known Stone Age motif.”
While this will come as a bit of a disappointment to those whose imaginations had been captivated by the idea of observing drawings made by ancient humans, there are still plenty of other examples of more convincing cave art. The oldest of these are found in the El Castillo cave in Canatbria, Spain, and are thought to have been made around 40,000 years ago.
Image in text: A 3D scan of the cave clouds and lines. Andreas Pastoors