Radiocarbon Dates for Pictographs in Ignatievskaya Cave, Russia: Holocene Age for Supposed Pleistocene Fauna. (Notes & News)

Article excerpt

Key-words: pictographs, AMS radiocarbon dating, Russia, Bronze/Iron Age rock art, Holocene, Palaeolithic rock art, Pleistocene fauna

Ignatievskaya Cave is located in the northwestern foothills of the southern Ural Mountains. It is on the right bank of the Sim River, a tributary of the Belaya River (FIGURE 1). Foothills there are ~200-700 m high. Average temperature is 0.1 [+ or -] 1[degrees]C with 500-700 mm of precipitation per year. The area is a coniferous forest, mixed with deciduous trees (FIGURE 2). Pine, fir, birch, alder and oak are most typical. Large grasses, ferns and cereal plants are present. There is rich, black topsoil over a carbonate (limestone) base.


The largest cave in this karst region, with 600 m of Devonian limestone passages, Ignatievskaya Cave is ~3 m wide and ~2 m high with a flat horizontal ceiling, with 4 main chambers (FIGURE 3): Entrance Hall, Main Corridor, Large and Far Halls--the last two connected by two narrow tubes. Cave temperature is nearly constant at 5[degrees]C.


Although Ignatievskaya Cave has long been known by local residents, ancient red ochre and black charcoal prehistoric images were discovered by archaeologists V.T. Petrin, S.E. Chairkin & V.N. Shirokov only in 1980. The site was studied on field trips from 1980 to 1986 by Petrin et al. (1992) and in 1995 by Scelinskij & Shirokov (1999). Over 50 pictographs were found and recorded during those studies.

Paintings are located only in the Large and Far Halls at ~120 m from the entrance. There are no prehistoric drawings in the Entrance Hall. This site is a good example of image integration into naturally occurring rock morphology. In Large Hall, pictographs were placed on vertical and sloping walls and ceiling, as well as in niches and depressions. Images are also located on a large pillar. In contrast, most pictographs in Far Hall are painted on the ceiling, with only a few on the walls.

Description of pictographic images

Drawings vary from 1.5 cm for symbols to as large as 2.3 m for animals and anthropomorphs. Lines are 1 to 5 cm wide. Paintings are two colours: shades of red (iron ochre) and black (charcoal). In Far Hall, black figures dominate; in Large Hall, red paintings are more prominent. There are only three black paintings in Large Hall.

Images are animals, symbols, anthropomorphs and indefinite figurative motifs. Representations of `mammoths' (6 or 7) and horses (4) constitute a majority of animal images. There are, however, paintings of an ox, a rhinoceros-like animal, a composite animal with a camel-like body and a mammoth-like fanciful creature. All animals (20-30 cm long) in Large Hall were sketched as shaded silhouettes, with minimal features depicted. Some `mammoth' drawings do not show a neck and only one has tusks. A horse image is sketchily drawn without a mane or ears (FIGURE 4). Animals have straight legs, and at times only two are depicted.


Unlike Palaeolithic rock art of animals in France and Spain, images here are ambiguous; identification is problematic. Straight legs make images of black animals rather static. Motion is only suggested in one `mammoth' image that has bent knee joints. Another `mammoth' (FIGURE 5) apparently has a characteristic high-domed head, a trunk and possible tusk(s). But these assignments are not definitive. The `camel' body of a composite animal is drawn with only three or four lines. Black animals (0.3 to 1.3 m) are mostly outline drawings. A red rhinoceros has four legs, roughly sketched, as on other animals. Its body was drawn in outline with partial shading, and is ~2.3 m long.


Anthropomorpic images in Far Hall are represented by a black male figure ~32 cm long and a red female figure (FIGURE 6) ~1.2 m long. These anthropomorphs form a complex composition with a large figure of a rhinoceros. …