Cave Art Research Association (CARA)
Welcome to the homepage of CARA, the Cave Art Research Association
The Cave Art Research Association was founded on 1 January 2001. It began producing a newsletter, ‘Cave Art Research‘, in the same year. This international specialist group focuses on the study, analysis, conservation and management of rock art occurring in limestone caves, and on any other subject closely connected with an understanding of cave art.
Cave art in Australasia – a brief article summarising the world’s second-largest cave art concentration.
A list of all currently known cave art sites in Australia is available here.
Cussac Cave: a breach of deontology is an illustrated report by fourteen French scholars about aspects of this recent sensational discovery.
Palaeolithic cave art in Britain?, presentation and brief discussion of claims presented in mid-2003.
The cave petroglyphs of Australia is a detailed review of this phenomenon, presented as a PDF file of 386 KB.
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A brief history of cave art research
The history of the study of rock art in deep caves is widely regarded as having commenced with the discovery of the Palaeolithic art in Altamira, Spain, in 1879. However, cave art has been known to exist in various parts of the world practically since its creation. For instance, Neolithic art, Roman and later inscriptions in the vicinity of Palaeolithic cave art all suggest that the art was seen at these various times. Even much of the famous cave art of Lascaux is probably not of the Pleistocene, but may have been created in the Holocene, in response to earlier art. In 1458, Pope Calixtus III decreed that the religious ceremonies held in ‘the Spanish cave with the horse pictures’ had to cease. Although it is unknown which site he referred to, it was almost certainly a site of Palaeolithic art. This decree also implies the use of the ancient rock art in religious practices in late medieval times. By the 19th century, however, all knowledge of this rock art seems to have been lost, much to the detriment of its re-discoverer.
The life of Don Marcelino Santiago Tomás Sanz de Sautuola (1831-1888) was destroyed through his discovery of Palaeolithic art in Altamira. The archaeological establishment judged the cave art to be a crude joke or a hoax, and considered its discoverer to be either a charlatan or a dupe. De Sautuola produced immaculate publications in 1880 and 1882, trying in vain to secure acceptance of his find, but most of his opponents refused to even inspect the site (Sautuola, 1880). He died prematurely six years later, a broken and bitter man, in the full knowledge that he had made one of the greatest discoveries in the history of archaeology.
Léopold Chiron had found engravings deep in the French cave of Chabot already in 1878, and in 1890 found more in another site, Figuier. In 1883, Francois Daleau excavated engravings on a wall in Pair-non-Pair that had been covered by Ice Age sediments. However, de Sautuola’s treatment by the discipline deterred others from publicising such new finds. In 1895, a bison engraving was discovered in the French cave La Mouthe. Emile Rivière, who had seen the Altamira paintings, then found more rock art in La Mouthe, and four years later a Palaeolithic lamp. Thus the evidence in favour of Palaeolithic rock art mounted, but full acceptance by the archaeological establishment did not occur until the end of the century.
At that time, a young Catholic priest had begun to develop a great fascination for the subject of European cave art. Abbé Henri Breuil was to dominate the field for the next six decades, and a great deal of our knowledge of the Palaeolithic rock art traditions is attributable to his unparalleled life work (Breuil, 1952). His reign was followed by that of André Leroi-Gourhan (1965), after whose death Jean Clottes became the key scholar of Palaeolithic cave art. Throughout the 20th century, a stylistic sequence for the art was refined and honed by successive scholars. Its basis were the stylistic genres perceived by the leading researchers, which were often constructs of a very tenuous nature. Although significant changes were made to this stylistic sequence from time to time, it remained unchanged in its essential evolutionary basis. A distinctive development from the most simple and primitive to the most complex and ornate remained its most fundamental tenet until 1995, when it was refuted by Bednarik (1995). This was the result of new discoveries, most especially that of Chauvet Cave in France, whose dating by Clottes et al. (1995) demonstrated that the most sophisticated Palaeolithic cave art was also the earliest. During the 1990s, the introduction of direct dating of European cave art and the demise of stylistic dating, instances of fakes and rejections of scientific dating results prompted various controversies, culminating in 1995 in what Michel Lorblanchet later described as an earthquake in Palaeolithic rock art research.
Cave art is not, however, limited to Europe, it is found in all continents except Antarctica. A second tradition of Ice Age cave art occurs along the southern coast of Australia. The first site discovered was Koonalda Cave, presented by Alexander Gallus (1968). The scientific investigation and the recognition as a specific tradition of Australian rock art only began with the discovery of the Mt Gambier corpus in 1980 (Bednarik 1990). The first sites located there, Malangine and Koongine Caves, were subjected to direct dating of the rock art by Robert Bednarik in 1980. This was in fact the introduction of scientific dating of any form of rock art, whereas it took another ten years for direct dating techniques to be adopted by French cave art specialists. In contrast to the Franco-Cantabrian cave art chronology, the Australian cultural sequence has not given rise to controversy. This is because it has not been developed through stylistic constructs of individual archaeologists, but through scientific data obtained from substances physically related to the art, and through the identification of specific behavioural traces. In Australia, the Parietal Markings Project is responsible for the discovery of about 90% of all known sites, including all forty cave sites at Mt Gambier.
Another region noted for its cave art includes parts of Central America and the Caribbean islands. Specific clusters of sites occur in Cuba, Hispaniola (two specific concentrations) and in the general area of Belize, Guatemala and Yucatán Peninsula. The cave art of the last-mentioned region is attributed to the Maya and some twenty-two sites are currently known. This region has been studied especially by Andrea Stone (1995). The dozen or so sites in the Dominican Republic have been presented by Fernando Morban Laucer (1978). Minor numbers of cave art sites occur also on several other Caribbean islands. All cave art of this region is assumed to be well under 2000 years old.
Finally, a remarkable series of rock art sites has been located in several caves in the Kentucky-Alabama region of North America. They are popularly known as ‘mud glyph caves’ but the rock art, which is thought to be fairly recent, seems to occur on moonmilk rather than mud. This series, discovered since 1980, has been presented by Charles Faulkner (1986).
(By Robert G. Bednarik, from Encyclopedia of Cave and Karst Science,
Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, London 2002.)
Bednarik, R. G. 1990. The cave petroglyphs of Australia. Australian Aboriginal Studies 1990(2): 64-68.
Bednarik, R. G. 1995. Refutation of stylistic constructs in Palaeolithic rock art. Comptes Rendus de L’Académie de Sciences Paris 321(série IIa, No. 9): 817-21.
Breuil, H. 1952. Four hundred Centuries of Cave Art. Montignac: Centre d’Études et de Documentation Préhistoriques.
Clottes, J., Chauvet, J.-M., Brunel-Deschamps, E., Hillaire, C., Daugas, J.-P., Arnold, M., Cachier, H., Evin, J., Fortin, P., Oberlin, C., Tisnerat, N. & Valladas, H. 1995. Les peintures paléolithiques de la Grotte Chauvet-Pont d’Arc, à Vallon-Pont-d’Arc (Ardèche, France): datations directes et indirectes par la méthode du radiocarbone. Comptes Rendus de l’Académie des Sciences de Paris 320: 1133-40.
Faulkner, C. H. (ed.) 1986. The Prehistoric Native American Art of Mud Glyph Cave. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press.
Gallus, A. 1968. Parietal art in Koonalda Cave, Nullarbor Plain. Helictite 6: 43-49.
Leroi-Gourhan, A. 1965: Prehistoire de l’art occidental. Paris: Mazenod.
Morban Laucer, F. 1978. El arte rupestre de la Republica Dominicana, Petroglifos de la Provincia de Azua. Santo Domingo: Fundación García Arévalo, Inc.
Sautuola, M. S. de 1880. Breves apuntes sobre algunos objetos prehistóricos de la provincia de Santander. Santander.
Stone, A. J. 1995. Images of the Underworld. Naj Tunich and the Tradition of Maya Cave Painting. Austin: University of Texas Press.