Kevin Sharpe’s interesting paper stimulates our minds
to the subject of marks executed on cave surfaces dense enough to preserve such
marks through the ages.
The question many people ask me, and which Sharpe used
as his heading, is ‘are they of human or animal origin?’ The answer is in the interpretation and in
being able to distinguish between the two. On closer examination and
understanding of the marks, the difference between them is easily established
(Bednarik 1986b, 1994a).
I have examined thousands of animal markings since the mid-1950s in over 400 caves, sinkholes and similar places, mainly in the
lower South-East of South Australia and in south-western Victoria whilst exploring these places for early human
occupation evidence and petroglyphs (Aslin and
Bednarik 1984a, 1984b; Aslin et al. 1985; Aslin1991). Generally, animal scratch markings in the majority are simply thin and
sharp, whilst human-made finger marks are wide and shallow. I think it is a
fallacy that early people used animal claws to scrape at the walls, especially in MountGambier cave art. I have not seen any scrapings that could be
attributed to an animal in places that they could not have reached either by
standing upright or jumping from a ledge or rock. If it was on a sheer,
vertical wall, above animal height but in reach of a human, then perhaps man
could have made them and my interest in them is piqued. (I have not had the
good fortune to examine and view the markings in Koonalda, Kintore and CuttaCuttaCaves. I therefore cannot fully comment on the markings in
In nearly all of my observations of comparing humanly
made marks to those of animals, the differences are generally easily recognised by
an experienced researcher.
guideline an archaeologist, or anyone else, needs to help distinguish between
human and animal-made marks is experience, examination and comparison of all marks. Practically all
caves I know with entrances open to the surface contain some specimens of animal claw marks. In the MountGambier region we have identified forty parietal cave
petroglyph sites. It has taken the examination of hundreds of caves to arrive
at this figure and this would give a researcher a whole lot of experience and
knowledge of all markings in caves, be they animal or human. I agree with Bednarik that a great variety of animal species can be identified from their claw marks and ‘that a reliable
separation can be achieved by an experienced observer in nearly every instance’
(Bednarik 1993: 83; cf. 1991: 38). One must
back one’s judgement with the knowledge that the marks being viewed belong to a
species of animal that had inhabited the district. The back-up of palaeontological evidence in bones uncovered at the site or
in near proximity is important in helping to identify the animal species.
Once gaining the experience and knowledge from the
markings in caves, one would confidently be able to differentiate between human
and animal-made markings. The cavities, ledges and high water
levels all add to the make up of the caves’ passages and chambers. On close
examination we soon learn what type of mark one would expect to see on the
various walls, ceilings, ledges and alcoves. Claw marks often occur near old
high water levels suggesting that when an animal falls into a cave it has usually been attracted by
the smell of water. If it accidentally entered it, it would soon become
disorientated in the dark and try to claw its way out until it grew too weak
and eventually died in its watery grave. Its remains would then sink to the
bottom. Later, with the lowering of the aquifer, the bones become exposed,
laying there for an archaeologist to make the discovery. A few metres above its
resting place would be the claw marks the animal left in its desperate attempt to escape the water.
On the first contact with a wall, the claws are
splayed and will dig deeply into the surface, gradually tapering off, becoming
more shallow marks and quite often the animal will dig its claws in deep for one last grasp at the
wall just above the water line. On rock faces, patterns and density of claw
marks are uniformly similar in caves, so when researchers enter a cave, they
would expect to see, through experience and knowledge, the same repetition of
The entrance to McEachern’s
Cave in Victoria is a typical solution tube-like entrance and an
excellent animal trap. All animal species’ entry into this cave would have been
accidental. As it contains valuable palaeontological
remains (Tideman1967; Wakefield 1967), the evidence points more to the
marks being of animal origin than human. A climbing ladder is necessary for a human to enter
found in several locations within TantanoolaCave are shallow-penetration claw markings on ledges and
walls and are very common to all similar claw marks found in all 400 odd known caves within the MountGambier region. These markings are unquestionably and
typically animal, being fairly recent and of a smaller species, e.g. possum. The first person to interpret these marks did
so with no experience and knowledge of the differences between human and animal marks. One needs to familiarise oneself with both types of marks before
arriving at the conclusion of how they were made. That person today, with new
experience and knowledge, would now come to the same conclusion. Gunn (n.d.)
reports ‘[O]n the 7th. Feb., 1981, a party led by E. Hamilton-Smith met at the cave to
examine recently noticed wall marks’. He goes on to say ‘[A]ll
markings have the same internal colour and texture of the surrounding wall’ and
he remarks further that ‘[F]lowstone has encroached
over at least four sets of markings’. This does suggest that some markings are
very old. In conclusion, Gunn writes that all of the wall markings are the
result of ‘ramblings of animals across the
wall surface’. The marks in TantanoolaCave were examined by myself (in September 1982) on the invitation of the then Cave Manager, John
Callaghan, and then later with R. G. and E. Bednarik (in 1985), and we came
to the same conclusion as Gunn ¾ that these marks were not of Aboriginal origin.
The first diagnosis of those markings was obviously
incorrect. Imagine the confusion and frustration if, in my local area, I began
to arrive at the conclusion that all markings I saw in caves were made by
humans, using the TantanoolaCave as a guide. It would be an incorrect interpretation.
The markings in the TantanoolaCave are so obviously animal, they do not warrant further discussion on how they
The TantanoolaCave structural build-up began as a solution cave in
dolomite. This dolomite is altered Miocene bryozoan limestone and usually
underlies the Gambier limestone. The cave is on the Tartwaup
fault-line, which has experienced vertical movement. This formed cliffs on the
south-west side of the ancient MountBurr volcanic range and Pleistocene Mount Burr beach.
During the Pleistocene, the cliff was cut back by marine wave action and
entrances to the cave were breached. Marine sediments entered first through
cracks and solution tubes until a larger breach occurred, probably near the
present entrance. This is how the marine-washed pebbles were deposited there.
The pebbles then formed a bar, which helped in blocking the entrance off again.
The final stage of the cave’s development is calcite infill by speleothems, which is indicative of the cave being sealed
for a relatively long period. Included is flowstone, which has covered some of
the marine deposits (pebbles) and old ancient entrances, long before the first
humans roamed this part of south-eastern South Australia.
A further indication that the
entrance to TantanoolaCave was open during the Pleistocene
period but not in recent times is the absence of evidence of dingoes. No doubt carnivores, like the dingo, would have
preyed on smaller animals and they would have inhabited the cave, but there
has been no evidence noted of dingo remains. The entrance to the cave was
therefore sealed before the arrival of the dingo and not reopened until after
the dingo was extinct in the district.
The late Mr Boyce Lane, who discovered the small entrance to TantanoolaCave on 28 March 1930, was a personal friend of mine. He gave me the
pleasure of several interviews with him, which were
recorded on tape in the mid-1980s. Boyce described to me how he discovered the cave
while hunting rabbits with a ferret:
While waiting for the return of my
ferret from a rabbit burrow, I dislodged some stones, which in turn made the
hole larger. I then could see it went into a larger cavity. By wriggling
through, I discovered I could stand up, but on dislodging a rock and hearing it
bounce down the slope to the bottom I beat a quick retreat out. The next day I,
with my brothers Clarrie and Ron, made the entrance
hole larger (B. Lane,
taped pers. comm.).
They took a photograph of the freshly opened entrance,
which Boyce gave me permission to use in my collection
(Fig. 1). It shows the small entrance with a dolomite rock-face above and canvas laid on the ground to enable the explorers’ easier access.
interviewing Boyce, he described to me how he assisted Norman Tindale in the excavation and the exploration of many caves
and anthropological excursions to local Aboriginal sites of significant
importance (Tindale1933). Boyce said to me during the interviews that I was the first person to
actually ask him in depth, to describe these early happenings. As far as I know
I am the only person to record this on tape before his passing.
Thus the late Boyce Lane, looking for his ferret, which had disappeared down a
hole, discovered TantanoolaCave in 1930. He and his brothers were the first people to enter
the cave, and it showed no evidence of any previous human habitation. TantanoolaCave was then a complete darkened cave system and as animals entered it via a burrow or hole,
they became trapped in the darkness. They would no doubt claw at the walls in
an attempt to escape. Importantly, in the cave is a deposit of Pleistocene
chert and dolomite pebbles showing no signs of disturbance or impact fractures
by humans. If the ancient people had entered the cave, would they not have used
these pebbles for their flint implements as they had in several nearby caves?
Does this not prove that man had not previously entered this cave and that all
marks had been made by animals? Silica mining during the late Pleistocene era in
the caves was a prime purpose of entering them, especially as there was no
surface chert available at that time (Bednarik 1992b).
The majority of the scratch marks are in the back of
the cave on ledges which are now one metre or less from the path (floor) and are
typical marks left by trapped animals trying to claw their way out. Over the years the
surface of the path has been disturbed and altered. It has been lowered in some
places and raised in others, thus making the original levels harder to
The TantanoolaCave is special to me as it is in my research area. I hope
this RAR Comment will show that the markings
in the cave are not human and will bring the discussion on the marks in that
cave to a close. Many naturally made marks on rock-faces could sometimes look
like scratches. Water is a powerful component and by trickling constantly over
the same place it can cause tiny marks that could be construed as animal scratches.
Recently I led members from the Archaeological and
Anthropological Society of Victoria on a weekend field trip to a variety of
early people’s occupational sites in the MountBurr range, north of MountGambier. We viewed and had discussions on early people’s
parietal finger markings and chert mining within Prung-kart
Cave, Gran Gran Cave and other sites where we
familiarised ourselves with the difference between finger flutings and animal marks. We also visited and viewed the markings in TantanoolaCave. It was a unanimous decision that the markings were
of animal origin, not human.
Over the genre
one can easily distinguish between marks made recently (in the last 200 years) which look considerably older. Animals dig in with their claws, their marks being sharper,
and usually leave a fairly uniform space between individual claws, not coming
together as human fingers do. Animals mainly leave marks in vertical or near-vertical
positions. They are unable to scrape sideways for any length of time. Humans
can go in all directions, horizontal, vertical and circular.
I have recorded ancient bones of animals in several caves. Some embedded in the walls,
ceilings and floors and others lying in situ. Some of these bones have been
identified, being those of the extinct Protemnodon
(giant wallaby) and Sthenurus (kangaroo
species). These bones lay under claw marks on the walls, made by the animal when it became trapped. The marks are near the lower
part of the walls and floors and are quite deep and spaced approximately 18 mm apart. Above these are smaller sets of claw marks noticeably different from the
In Sharpe’s conclusion he states ‘[I]nvestigators may also wish to isolate other physical
characteristics of the marks’ etc. His list is self-explanatory:
·Marks made by a
frantic animal would be short and deep.
scratches are deeper on impact than ‘stretching scratches’.
·Hindleg: slant off vertical.
scratches differ in all species and I consider that over 90% of scratches found in Mt Gambier caves would be
assessed as animals that have been trapped and leave claw marks behind
in their desperate attempts to escape.
What will future researchers read into markings on
cave walls? Will they interpret them as we have? Maybe with the advancement of
technology they will see them in a different light.
Lastly I would recommend Sharpe to be more aware of
the difference between humanly made cave petroglyphs and animal scratches. Further practical fieldwork in caves would
be beneficial to the study of the origin of line markings.
Geoffrey D. Aslin
Tel. and Fax No. (618) 8725 0005
Aslin, G. D. 1991. Kongorong from land to sea – An
early history. Millicent Print, Millicent.
Aslin, G. D. and R. G.Bednarik1984a.Karlie-ngoinpoolCave: a preliminary report. Rock Art
Aslin, G. D. and R. G.Bednarik1984b.KarakeCave¾ a preliminary report.The Artefact-5.
Aslin, G. D., E. K.
R. G. Bednarik1985. The ‘Parietal Markings Project’ ¾ a progress report. Rock Art Research2: 71-4.
Bednarik, R. G.1992b. Early subterranean chert mining.The Artefact-24.
Bednarik, R. G.1986b. The parietal art of South Australia.Anthropological Society of South Australia24(1): 3-19.
Tideman, C. R. 1967. Some animal remains from cave deposits in the south east of South Australia. South Australian Naturalist42(2): 21-27.
Rock markings of humans and other animals
primary concern here is that my assessment of the Koonalda boulder markings he
has many years ago mistakenly described as petroglyphs (Sharpe and Sharpe 1976) ‘ought not to stand merely on
rhetoric or subjective interpretation’. This assessment, however, is neither
rhetoric nor subjective interpretation, but is the result of several decades of
intensive study of animal
markings in about 1000
caves, well over 300 in
Australia alone. As part of these studies I have conducted numerous
experiments, for instance with the paws of live animals as
well as dead. I have undertaken extensive field microscopy and morphological
surveys of countless numbers of such markings (e.g. measuring claw spacings or incision depths, defining groove sections). I
have even studied, measured and photographed hundreds of similar mammalian
markings on masonry, clay bricks, wood, tree trunks and rock, for instance
those occurring at possum dreys or on building walls
(Figure 1). The
purpose of this work was to secure generic knowledge about nonhuman animal marks
before applying it to the wall markings in caves to better understand them.
Sharpe considers this a subjective approach, while at the same time belatedly
recommending that it be done. Let us see what he offers in its place.
previous experience in the study of either cave art or animal
markings in caves, Sharpe has in 1973
briefly (‘In the short time we had’; Sharpe and Sharpe 1976: 128)
examined ‘stream-like’ markings on many of the boulders of what he calls
Rock-fall D in Koonalda Cave. He thought them to be human engravings, without
considering any alternative interpretation, and apparently unaware of the
trillions of animal claw
marks that exist in the caves of the world. In the decades since then he has
not returned to the site to re-examine these markings in the light of
developments since, and he has failed to absorb the relevant literature (for
instance, he still cites Marshack’s1977 ideas of meander streams). Nor
has he seen natural markings at more than a few sites, for instance he has not
been in any of the other Australian caves he mentions, except Tanatanoola Cave where he spent about one hour. Moreover,
he has never conducted analytical or experimental work with claw markings, be
it of types he would presumably not dispute (e.g. those found at occupied dreys) or of types that he might dispute.
responding to this paper I need to clarify an issue of ideology: Dr Sharpe is
primarily a theologian, which may account for the contradiction contained
within the title of his paper. For me, a scientist, all cave markings by
creatures capable of locomotion are animal
markings. That includes humans, Martians, or anything else that crawls, walks,
flies or swims. Hence, I write of ‘natural markings’ and ‘nonhuman animals’
This is not an issue of semantics, but one of fundamental differences of ideology.
lack of familiarity with the material in question and the literature about it
is illustrated throughout the paper, for instance when he writes that the OrchestraShellCave
markings are similar to those in CuttaCuttaCave. The
two sites could not be more different morphologically, nor could their
markings: those in the first cave are finger flutings, while no-one who has
examined those in the second site has suggested that they are anything other
than nonhuman markings. He is also mistaken in stating that there are sets of
markings on Koonalda boulders comprising up to eight lines. I have seen no sets
of more than four lines that can safely be attributed to one single ‘tool’
application. In addition, there are no sets that ‘branch’ from others; there
may be the rare, occasional case of a single line apparently branching from
another single line, but that is to be expected in any random accumulation of
hundreds of lines on a single panel. Similarly, sets that cross over other sets
will often occur in such panels, and to describe them as ‘grids’ falsely
ascribes intentionality. Sharpe mistakenly claims that only what he calls
Rock-fall C exhibits line markings. Certainly, their density varies, but in
principle they can be found in all parts of the massive talus formations (i.e.
in his Rock-falls A to E). They are equally common along the walls of the cave,
a point he failed to notice in 1973.
markings are thousands of times more common in caves than are linear incisions
made by humans, therefore if we are confronted by a wall marking we find hard
to identify, the initial probability that it was made by a nonhuman animal is
thousands of times greater than the probability that it is rock art. This is
the brutal truth, and for this reason alone, the onus is on the researcher to
show that this is not a nonhuman mark. Sharpe, who has long been trying
to interpret Koonalda markings as a form of writing, will need to falsify the
proposition that his ‘streams’ on the boulders in that cave were made by animal claws
before he can validly think about their epigraphy. There is no value in reading
as script rock markings that were made by animal
mistakenly thinks that I omitted to list the engravings of Koonalda in my 1990 summary of Australian cave art.
If he consults Table 1 in
that paper he will see that I listed the cave as containing numerous ‘tool
marks’. They are, for instance, of the type shown in Figure 2. Most certainly there are
engravings in Koonalda, but I found none among the boulders with their multiple
claw mark sets, which were made either by nonhuman animals, or by
Aborigines with an animal paw
who were very determined to trick us into believing that these are animal claw
marks. Sharpe misinterprets his own 1976 paper
when he characterises it as stating that some
of his Koonalda boulder markings are human. This is not what his paper conveys,
where in fact an alternative explanation is not considered at all, and where
the makers of the ‘engravings’ are consistently defined as ‘artists’. Sharpe
also asks, ‘where are Bednarik’s clear criteria’, which illustrates his
superficial reading of my work as well. For instance, he cites Bednarik (1998), but he has not noticed that
this paper provides such detailed criteria. Sharpe continues: ‘[T]he field
needs communicable criteria, reliable guidelines, and more objectivity. So, in
an ideal world, what distinguishes markings of a human origin from those of an
animal origin?’ So many of the queries
he has are anticipated and considered in that 1998 paper
that it deserves to be cited at length:
To recognise individual animal
scratch marks requires considerable experience, because their morphologies
differ greatly according to the species’ climbing ability and method, ‘speleo-behaviour’, mobility, relative length of
extremities, shape of claws or talons and their mechanics of application, and
according to the shape of the claw points. The latter, for instance, can vary
according to local conditions, the specimen’s age, and so forth. Claw marks of Chiroptera (the most common of all animal
scratch marks) may be quite different from those of similar-sized animals
that are unable to fly. Moreover, great variations can be caused by the
lithology of the support
rock (relative hardness, moisture content, relative air humidity etc.), and
most particularly by modification processes (weathering, including speleo-weathering, the deposition of speleothems,
and the deforming action of some precipitates, notably certain types of
carbonate deposits). It is therefore necessary to appreciate that there are no
simple, ready-made rules for discriminating between animal
scratch marks and other, similar rock marks. Rather this is a process of
elimination in which many factors need to be taken into account, and in which
alternatives have to be discounted systematically.
empirical basis of this discrimination process consists of two bodies of
evidence: the study of markings that can safely be attributed to animal
species (e.g. megafaunal marks,
which have been most thoroughly studied in Europe, such
as those of Ursusspelaeus, and
in Australia), and
the study of ‘experimental’ animal
markings. The latter have involved a number of species, and in Australia
especially possums. I have documented several instances of occupied possum dreys in limestone cavities (including in actual caves),
and have microscopically surveyed the fresh climbing marks in the immediate
vicinity of the occupied lairs of Trichosurusvulpecula. Marking experiments
have also been conducted with live specimens, and their claws and claw spacings examined as part of this project. I have not
conducted such experimental work with Sarcophilus, but have studied the very numerous claw
markings in known lairs of the Tasmanian Devil, e.g. in Koonalda and TantanoolaCaves.
four broad categories of animal
scratch marks on rock surfaces have been distinguished. Large accumulations of
claw marks are usually much easier to identify than isolated or single marks.
One of the distinguishing characteristics refers to the relative positions of
multiple marks constituting a ‘set’, and the relative course of individual
grooves of a multi-pronged instrument such as an animal
rock fragments may only bear one or two grooves of a set (either exfoliated
from a wall, or marked in situ within the sediment), which renders
discrimination more difficult than on a cave wall. Nevertheless, other
variables remain and can be consulted quite effectively in such cases,
referring to the experience gained from parietal markings. These include:
1.Longitudinal striations are very frequently
present in lines engraved with stone tools, and several distinctive forms are recognised by researchers as being characteristic. Animal
scratches typically bear no striations.
2.Even if a claw did bear some irregularities
which would produce striations, as may conceivably be the case, these would
significantly differ from those occasioned by stone points. In the latter, the
point is usually slightly turned over the course of a groove, which results in
significant changes in the longitudinal striations. This is particularly clear
at changes of direction. A claw point, forming part of a multi-pronged
instrument, cannot be rotated in the same way.
3.Claw points are always rounded and comparatively
symmetrical, stone points are rarely so.
4.In cross-section, a claw-caused groove is
rather U-shaped, with the sidewalls steep, and stries parasites are never present.
5.Morphologically, claw marks are frequently of
slightly ‘cuneiform’ appearance, i.e.with one end deeper and abrupt, and the
other shallow and ‘fading’. This applies especially to short marks.
6.Where such a mark is well preserved, the
deeper and wider end can provide a fairly good impression of the shape of the
If the limestone is very soft,
lines may have been incised by a material such as bone or even wood. This would
be much harder to distinguish from claw markings than are stone marks, but
there is no evidence of such tool materials having been used, either in
Australian cave art or portable engravings on stone. I have conducted
experimental work with dry and ‘green’ wood, bone, and other materials,
including in south-western Western Australia. Tool marks
occur very frequently in about a dozen Australian caves we know of, and they
have been studied in some detail in Nung-kol, Mooraa, Paroong, Ngrang, Orchestra Shell and MandurahCaves. In all cases
they could be demonstrated to have been made with stone tools, and the stone
types of these tools were convincingly determined at two sites, from their
distinctive striation patterns.
it possible to comply with Sharpe’s key demand that the ‘field needs the formalisation of
the experience of researchers so that decisions can be made on lines of
uncertain origin, so that inexperienced researchers’ such as he ‘can learn, and
so that debate and decision can be made on potentially incorrect guesses or
experience-based interpretations’? This is not possible within the academic
context he probably has in mind: it cannot be learnt from a book. The ability
of the Aboriginal tracker to detect the near-invisible cannot be abstracted in
simplistic empiricist terms; it cannot be deconstructed into its components and
then re-assembled without considerable loss in resolution or integrity. If this
were attempted it would result only in a parody of the ability of tracking. In
much the same way it would be extremely difficult to write a book that could
convey how nonhuman markings are distinguished from human.
demands are those of naïve empiricism, confusing science with scientism. ‘Given
Rock-fall C’s location in pitch-blackness, its difficulty of access, its depth
within the cave, and the freely available rock on the surface of the Nullarbor
Plain, however, it seems most unlikely that a non-trogloxene would go there to
perform some daily activity that requires clawing’, he muses. He seems to think
that the reason why there are so many animal
scratch marks in caves is that certain species seek out such sites to perform
some ‘daily activity’. The reason for such concentrations is of course taphonomic, and the same as for cave art: limestone
dissolves rapidly where it is exposed to rain, especially in an acidic
environment. Hence, markings out of caves survive only for a short time,
whereas in caves they accumulate over tens of millennia. Similarly, Sharpe
still does not seem to appreciate that if some of the Koonalda finger flutings
precede the most recent rock-fall events, then the boulders on top of these
rock-falls must be more recent then the finger flutings that are concealed by
them. The same applies to any animal
scratches on these boulders, which must necessarily postdate the event of the
rock-fall. Sharpe also seems to assume that the cave’s entrance accessibility
was always as it is today, which is almost certainly false. Caves that
developed along the upper zone of an aquifer are often tectonically unstable,
because their structural stability is subjected to the effects of watertable fluctuations. Moreover, the description of three
‘cliffs’ is an exaggeration: his second ‘cliff’ is a talus slope averaging not
much more than 30%,
which I can descend by running, and his third ‘cliff’ is a boulder slope of
similar steepness, perhaps 15 m
high and still reached by daylight, and certainly not a major barrier to many
animals. Conversely, the entrance of KoonaldaCave is
not a doline, but a sinkhole. A doline is a closed depression in a karst
region. I also reject many of his descriptive details of Koonalda, for instance
his ‘Directional Stele’ (Sharpe and Sharpe 1976) is a
figment of his imagination. I have seen no stone arrangements in the Upper
Chamber, and his description of the ‘stele’ illustrates his approach:
When one of us was working
alone, deep in the wall gallery area, the presence of this stone glowing some
distance away in reflected light was strongly felt. We named it the Directional
Stele because we used it to find our way into and out of the wall-marking area.
One only needs to walk towards it, and when reached the rest of the path is
clear (Sharpe and Sharpe 1976: 129).
visitors lacked not only Sharpe’s disposition, they also lacked electric lights
and can safely be presumed to have been unmoved by this glowing light of
direction. The ‘paths’ often referred to by Sharpe, too, are a result of his
subjective perception, yet he hesitates not to describe vastly more
comprehensive and objective work as ‘subjective’.
mentions that I listed PrincessMargaretRoseCave as
one of those sites that could not have been accessed by Indigenes, so the
scratch markings in it are clearly by nonhuman species. We have in fact studied
very numerous such caves that exclude human markings, either because their
entrances were opened only recently (e.g. TantanoolaCave), or
entering them required mechanical means not available in the past. Sharpe’s
question, could macropods access the Upper Chamber,
is easily answered: I have seen the tracks and skeletal remains of
non-trogloxenes up to two kilometres from the
entrance of some caves, and have discussed their ethology
when trapped in a cave in some detail since first recording such data in the Gläserkogelschacht in June 1963 (see
Bednarik 1991: Fig.
Thus my experience with this material, acquired over more than four decades,
exceeds Sharpe’s many times over.
Sharpe has no difficulty accepting the identification of animal scratches in
French caves; in fact he advocates the identification of cave bear scratches
even where they occur immediately next to human markings. His discussion and
illustration of apparent human reactions to bear scratches in Rouffignac is an
important contribution to the general subject. He is certainly right that at
least some of the configurations, such as he depicts in his Figure 4, seem to
record such reactions.
course it would be possible with a hand-held animal foot
to produce markings that would be almost indistinguishable from genuine animal
scratches, particularly if the person had a good understanding of animalbehaviour in caves. Similarly, we cannot guarantee that
stone tools or shards or whatever we excavate from an archaeological layer have
not been planted there by a skilled person trying to mislead us. However, it
must be remembered that the hand-held animal paw
hypothesis was first proposed by Hallam at OrchestraShellCave,
where she thought that the finger flutings were made with severed paws attached
to long sticks. She was doubly wrong in this instance: first because the steep
floor of that cave was much closer to the ceiling when the marks were made (the
floor subsidence is clearly evident), and secondly because they were made with
human fingers. However, there is another aspect to the severed paws hypothesis:
assuming that some of the marks were made in this way, ostensibly to copy
natural marks, what would it tell us? Would it imply that the marks were some
kind of writing system?
presents a critique of the simple triangulation method I once offered,
suggesting that it needs to be more developed. He would prefer to see ‘location’
included as a further dimension, but in a cave, present location often does not
equate with past location. Caves are regularly filled with or emptied of solid
or liquid materials, and their morphology is notoriously impermanent. Both the
evacuation and convacuation volumes of caves expand
and contract over time, and it would be naïve to
suggest that the relative location of anything in them is somehow fixed. It is
necessarily in a state of flux, when seen in the long-term time frame demanded
by ancient wall markings. The same applies to such aspects as hardness of rock
or rock-like speleothems: it is in a constant state
of flux, depending on speleoclimatic and hydrological
circumstances. Therefore location in relation to some boulder or floor or cave
space, or relative hardness of wall, or which side of a boulder is up are all
variables that can and do vary over time.
In seeking to expand the idea of using
triangulation to determine details of natural cave markings I think Sharpe
needs to appreciate that the purpose of this model was not to discriminate
between human and other animal
markings. He also needs to note that I specifically stated that this model
improved from further
input as the range of identifiable markings grows. If the model were perfect
and complete (which it is of course not even remotely) it would be possible to
determine with it one of the factors (or the range eligible for consideration)
by ascertaining the two other factors (Bednarik 1991: 39).
anticipated that several other variables were involved, such as, for instance,
‘softness of the medium or subsequent speleothem growth’, but stated that none
of these are ‘essential’ as they are variable over time. I stand by that
statement, and add location to those ineligible variables.
issue raised by Sharpe is his suggestion that the components of sets of
multiple lines may have been drawn individually, in which case they can fairly
be assumed to be human marks. However, the discrimination between such markings
presents no difficulty to the specialist. First, if the individual lines were
drawn with stone, they would be readily recognisable
micro-morphologically. Second, it is surprisingly difficult to draw on a coarse
rock surface several single lines in such a way that they appear to have been
made in unison, in a single sweep of a multi-pronged tool.
his conclusions, Sharpe poses six questions, which can be answered from a
perusal of the literature on the subject:
scratches contain internal striations?’ See Bednarik (1998) for answer. There is an
extensive literature available on the incidence and study of groove striations
(d’Errico 1988, 1989, 1991, 1994; Bednarik 1988, 1991, 1992a, 1992b, 1994, 2001, 2004).
·‘Do any animal
scratches include internal branches or cross-overs?’
·‘What would the result of frantic
scratching behaviour look like?’ Place one live
wombat on floor of deep shaft, with no possibility of escape,
light visible above. The claw marks it will produce in its puny attempts to climb
a vertical wall before it starves to death might satisfy Sharpe’s requirements,
and they have been studied in considerable detail, and published.
·‘Do climbing scratches differ from
stretching scratches?’ I have never listed ‘stretching scratches’. Sharpe has,
and will need to answer this question.
·‘In general, do the scratches differ
that a species makes for different reasons?’ Yes; see relevant literature.
·‘Did humans use the paws of dead animals to
make lines and, if so, are there any observables that distinguish them from
lines that living animals
make?’ If ethnographic or archaeological evidence (e.g. a severed animal paw
with signs of having been used) supporting
the use of animal paws
to copy animal
scratches in caves were produced, the proposition would be worth pursuing. If
its sole purpose is to save Sharpe’s hypothesis that the boulder markings in
Koonalda were made by humans it is merely frivolous. Concerning the second part
of the question, I think that unless the copies were made by a person well
versed in the relevant ethology I might be able to
discriminate between animal
scratches and marks made by people holding a severed animal paw.
Animal scratches contain more
information than the mere fact that they were made with animal paws.
a simple way to resolve the issue Sharpe canvasses here, and if he is
interested in achieving this, all he needs to do is to set up a blind test. He
could produce a number of markings, some with animal paws
(or even live animals if
he is so inclined), and some with stone tools, in the presence of an
independent referee who records the way each marking was made. As a medium he
could use plaster of Paris, a medium he has very usefully employed in the past
to experiment with finger flutings. I would gladly subject myself to a blind
test, something I have done before and for very similar exercises. Indeed, I
would go so far as to suggest that the other principal researchers of the
Parietal Markings Project (i.e. G. D. Aslin and E. Bednarik)
might be also willing to take the same test. We would, separately, examine each
marking and our pronouncements would then be recorded and checked against the
notes of the referee. I predict that our success rate would be above 90%; in fact I would venture to
suggest that we might be right in 100% of
cases. This would merely demonstrate the point, it would not answer Sharpe’s
request for knowledge of how to achieve such discrimination. For this there are
no shortcuts, he will have to do the same amount of fieldwork others have
done if he is unwilling to accept their judgment.
summary, Sharpe ignores data and research of substance, especially on how human
markings can be recognised among natural cave
markings, and instead offers ‘pure speculation’, to use his own term, and a lot
of disjointed ideas of ‘what should be done’. The main issue he seems to be
concerned with, to show that the boulder markings in Koonalda’s Upper Chamber
could have been made by humans, is not served by
re-stating his superseded views of three decades ago. At that time he stated
that what he wanted to do ‘is to analyse the way [the
boulder markings] are built up, to draw and photograph them, and to describe
them in relation to form’. To embark on such a re-appraisal of the ‘preliminary
survey’ he commenced in 1973 might
be more productive than disparaging other, much more comprehensive work
by defining it as ‘rhetoric and subjective interpretation’.
South, VIC 3162
Bednarik, R. G.1988. Comment on D. Mania and U.
Mania, ‘Deliberate engravings on bone artefacts of Homo erectus’. Rock Art Research5: 96-100.
Bednarik, R. G.1991. Comment on F. d’Errico,
‘Microscopic and statistical criteria for the identification of prehistoric systems
of notation’. Rock Art Research8: 89-91.
Bednarik, R. G.1992a. Natural
line markings on Palaeolithic objects.Anthropologie30(3): 233-40.
Bednarik, R. G.1992b. Base pour des études de pointe des débuts de l’art. L’Anthropologie96:
Bednarik, R. G.1994. The
discrimination of rock markings.Rock Art Research-44.
Bednarik, R. G.2001. Rock art science: the
scientific study of palaeoart. Brepols, Turnhout.
Bednarik, R. G.2004. The Middle Palaeolithic engravings from Oldisleben,
d’Errico, F. 1988. Lecture technologique de l’art mobilier grave
nouvelles méthodes et premiers résultats sur les galets graves de Rochedane. L’Anthropologie (Paris) 92: 101-22.
d’Errico, F. 1989. Palaeolithic lunar calendars: A case of wishful thinking? Current Anthropology30:
d’Errico, F. 1991. Microscopic and statistical criteria for the identification of
prehistoric systems of notation.Rock Art Research8: 83-93.
d’Errico, F. 1994. L’art gravé
azilien. 31e supplément, Gallia Préhistoire, CNRS Éditions, Paris.
comments on K. Sharpe’s paper
By R. G.Gunn
Sharpe’s paper raises important
points for our consideration; however, I do not see it addressing his principal
aim: to provide a balanced, systematic, communicable and empirical way to
determine the origin of line markings in caves.
While providing guidelines, the paper
does not provide any solid key determinants to assist us in distinguishing
between animal-like markings made by animals and those made by humans.
The paper goes over old ground in far
too great a depth, most of which, as he states, is largely speculation or
impressions based on experience. Sharpe’s conclusion, that a series of
empirical observations or tests need to be undertaken, is the telling point of
the paper. At present we do not have sufficient information to sort out many of
the discrepancies, and the need for such a series of studies is a first step to
providing the criteria required. Consequently, the protracted discussion about
the authorship of markings in Koonalda is unwarranted here, as it cannot be
determined conclusively at this stage.
The listing of ‘human
characteristics’ present here I find ambiguous. However, most of these are
hypotheses that could be tested. Bednarik’s matrix (along with his many supporting publications) provides a basis,
if not a structure, for such further development, and further discussion with
those who are specialists in cave fauna, flora, hydrology and geology would
probably assist in refining this list.
The problem of attribution here is
similar to the classification of coloured markings in painted shelters that
could be either natural stains or painting fragments. At present these
assessments are also largely based on the experience of the recorder.
For the moment, however, I can only go on my own
experience and record those markings as human that display some form of
‘composition’ or ‘mechanics’ (that I can perceive as being exclusively non-animal). Hence, I look forward to seeing a future paper that
resolves this and similar problems, or at least refines the possibilities.