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In a recent film of the world-famous Chauvet Cave, for example, the film director totally ignored the abstract paintings on the walls, as he moved from one animal picture to another.But things may be about to change, thanks to Genevieve von Petzinger and April Nowell, researchers at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, whose ground-breaking investigation into the types, characteristics and location of abstract signs and symbols in French cave art during the Upper Paleolithic era, leads them to believe that this mysterious type of abstract cave art may in fact represent the earliest form of pictorial language.Characteristics Derived from the Latin word for bird-shaped, a typical aviform is defined as "a geometric sign consisting of a kind of thick horizontal bar with a downward extension at each end and an upward bar at its centre" (Clottes 2008: 315).Also known as "Placard-type signs" after the type site of Le Placard Cave near La Rochefoucauld in the Charente, which has eleven of these strange abstract rock engravings, the largest number in any cave.That said, most crosshatching was created after 15,000 BCE, during the period of Magdalenian art, especially in the early part of the period. They appear exclusively in southern France, with the strongest concentrations in the Dordogne/Lot region and in the Pyrenees. Characteristics The actual term "cupule" was first coined by the archeologist Robert G. It signifies a shallow, non-functional cup-like depression, cut into the surface of a rock. Dating Cupules occur frequently in the first 10,000 years of the Ice Age, being seen in more than half of all Aurignacian caves, and 20 percent of Gravettian sites - all of whom are situated in close proximity to each other.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.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.
Even today, our interest in rock art is almost exclusively directed towards figurative painting and engraving.Dating Although the Aviform symbol occurs in three periods - the Aurignacian, the Solutrean and the Magdalenian - most Aviforms were created from the early period of Solutrean art onwards, that is, from about 22,000-20,000 BCE. - Les Trois Freres Cave, Hautes-Pyrenees - Roucadour Cave Art, Quercy, Lot.They appear to stop in France in about 11,000 BCE, but may continue elsewhere. - La Combe d'Oulen Cave, Labastide-de-Virac, Ardeche. Dating The largest proportion of circle signs were created during the era of Aurignacian art, after which its incidence declined during the Gravettian and Solutrean periods before increasing again during the Magdalenian. Characteristics Derived from the Latin word for "club-shaped", a standard claviform is defined as a vertical "P-sign", and is sometimes described by archeologists as a stylized female figure.The truth is, abstract symbols dominate parietal art - at least within the Franco-Cantabrian region - both in terms of age and quantity.Unfortunately, geometric images can't compare with the beauty of figurative cave art, as exemplified by the powerful bulls in the Lascaux cave paintings or the watching lions in the Chauvet cave paintings.