The cave art of our distant ancestors has always been the object of fascination, but the details of how this work came about are often vague. A study of ancient lighting techniques first repotted by CNN takes us one step closer to understanding how ancient artists worked.
Spanish archaeologists Ángeles Medina-Alcaide, Diego Garate, Iñaki Intxaurbe, José L. Sanchidrián, Olivia Rivero, Catherine Ferrier, Dolores Mesa, Jaime Pereña, and Iñaki Líbano conducted experiments to find out how Paleolithic artists illuminated the dark caves that were theirs Ateliers were, and canvases.
To gain a better understanding of the three main sources of light that were used in the caves, based on the evidence found in Paleolithic sites in southwestern Europe, scientists have recreated torches, chimneys and portable grease lamps. The experiments resulted in a better understanding of the specifics of each source, including the type of residue that the various techniques produced. This information is intended to help scientists better identify which light source was used in the archaeological records.
For the torches, the scientists collected dry juniper wood, green ivy for torches and lamp wicks. Highly flammable birch bark was used to start fires. For a facsimile of the ancient oil, the scientists collected animal fats from the bone marrow of a cow and a deer. These were processed and used together with pine resin. The research team created a total of five torches, two stone fat lamps and a small fireplace. Each was then taken into a cave to assess how the various lighting systems would behave in the humid environment of a cave.
The scientists found that the chimney was obstructed by the cave’s limited airflow. The torches were useful for exploring, but not for sustained work. The torch flame was often unpredictable and could produce more smoke than light. The fat lamps were found to be the most stable source of light, but they were limited in their illumination.
One mystery that research did not touch was why these artists worked so far in the caves.
“They could have made drawings right at the entrance to the cave without any problems,” Diego Garate, one of the scientists, told CNN. “They wanted to do it in these narrow places and go very deep into the caves. “