Findings from a new study of Neolithic cave paintings have prompted archeologists to rethink their perception of the ancient activity. The study, a collaboration between the University of Granada, Durham University, and the Autonomous University of Barcelona, examined figurative and geometric designs painted over 7,000 years ago in a cave in Spain.
According to a report in the Guardian, expert analysis revealed that the two sets of fingerprints impressed in the ochre pigment belonged to a 36-year-old man and either a young woman less than half the man’s age or a young man.
“From our point of view, if there are two people taking part in the creation of this pictorial panel, it means it must have been a social, rather than an individual, act, as we’d thought until now,” Francisco Martínez Sevilla, a researcher at the University of Granada, told the Guardian. Sevilla is one among many archaeologists who have long studied the 32 Neolithic images on the Los Machos site in Granada. He added that the paintings, “[show] us that these manifestations of art were a social thing and not just done by one individual in the community, such as the shaman or whoever.”
Their findings, published in the journal Antiquity, detail the process of comparing traces of fingerprint ridges left on the rocks with fingerprints from the present day to determine the artists’ age and sex. Despite the accomplishment, Sevilla said that it’s unlikely that experts will ever be able to determine the relationship between the two, such as whether they were members of the same community.
“The area where they are, and the fact that they haven’t been changed or painted over, gives you the feeling that this was a very important place and must have had a really important symbolic value for this community,” Sevilla said.