An engraving of a reindeer discovered in 2010 in South Wales has finally been confirmed to be the oldest example of rock art in Britain, dating back at least 14,505 years.
Discovered by Dr George Nash from the University of Bristol’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology while he was exploring the rear section of Cathole Cave, a limestone cave on the eastern side of an inland valley on the Gower Peninsula, South Wales, the engraving was then tested twice to date it.
Found to the rear of the cave on a small vertical limestone niche, the engraved cervid – probably a stylised reindeer – is shown side-on and measures approximately 15 x 11cm. It was carved using a sharp-pointed tool, probably made of flint, by an artist using his or her right hand. The animal’s elongated torso has been infilled with irregular-spaced vertical and diagonal lines, whilst the legs and stylised antlers comprise simple lines.
Engraved on a mineral deposit known as a ‘speleothem’ (cave formation), this allowed Dr Peter van Calsteren and Dr Louise Thomas of the NERC-Open University Uranium-series Facility to extract three samples from the surface of the speleothem covering the engraving in April of 2011.
One of these samples produced a minimum date of 12,572 years BP (before present), with a margin of plus or minus 600 years. A further sample, taken in June 2011 from the same flowstone deposit, revealed a minimum date of 14,505 years BP, plus or minus 560 years.
“The earlier date is comparable with Uranium-series dating of flowstone that covers engraved figures within Church Hole Cave at Creswell along the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border,” said Dr Nash. “However, the new minimum date of 14,505 + 560 years BP makes the engraved reindeer in South Wales the oldest rock art in the British Isles, if not North-western Europe.”
Source: University of Bristol