Archaeologists have made exciting discoveries in the Romanelli Cave in southeast Italy, unearthing new examples of Palaeolithic artwork and geometric signs.
The Romanelli Cave holds great significance in the context of the ‘Mediterranean province’ of European Upper Palaeolithic art. Although it was known to have been occupied during the Stone Age and was first rediscovered in 1874, difficulties in accessing the cave meant that it remained largely unexplored for many decades. The first records of cave art within it only date back to 1905.
However, a recent study published in Antiquity reveals the results of several years of intensive investigation by a multidisciplinary team of archaeologists, geologists, and paleontologists, under the coordination of Sapienza University of Rome. Their work, which began in 2016, has not only identified a series of new engravings but also extended the known occupation period of the cave, ranging from 14,000 to 11,000 years ago.
Dario Sigari, the lead author of the study, explained, “These new dates and the fact images are layered over each other, suggest the cave was in use for a longer period than previously supposed, with multiple episodes of art-making.”
The newly uncovered artwork includes a variety of elements: geometric signs, patterns created by tracing fingers through moonmilk (a soft white material that accumulates in limestone caves), and even a rare depiction of a bird.
Among the other images identified are a bovid, a hoofed mammal, with parallel lines infilling its head and back, and forward-pointing horns. The artists skillfully used the cave wall’s shape to create a 3D effect on the bovid’s body, demonstrating the advanced techniques employed.
Remarkably, different tools were employed to create this art depending on the characteristics of the surface being engraved. Researchers were intrigued by the zoomorphic figures and their shared visual concept, noting that it reflects a sense of high mobility, potentially implying the transfer of common iconography across vast regions.
These shared visual motifs are seen from Iberia and France to North Africa and the Caucasus, providing strong evidence of a shared visual heritage during the Late Upper Paleolithic across a wide part of Eurasia.
This discovery raises intriguing questions about social dynamics, cultural interactions, and the dissemination of common iconographic themes around the Mediterranean Basin.
More infromation: Sigari, D., Mazzini, I., Conti, J., Forti, et. al. (2021). Birds and bovids: New parietal engravings at the Romanelli Cave, Apulia. Antiquity, 95(384), 1387-1404. doi:10.15184/aqy.2021.128