Dating Lascaux Art by Precession
I did not realize until recently, that there may be some astrological imagery within the magnificent Stone Age paintings in the Lascaux Cave complex, in the Dordogne region of France. But although I am a little late to this particular party, perhaps I can add something to these speculations.
Although classical academics will not readily admit to any ancient cosmic symbolism in ancient times, and seemingly know nothing of ‘precession’. Neolithic or Palaeolithic man may have been rather more enlightened.
Precession refers to the ‘wobble’ of the Earth. The Earth is a giant gyroscope, so it wobbles (precesses), with a very slow but predictable 25,600-year wobble. Monsieur Jacques Laskar, the French astronomer, has calculated the Earth’s precession for the past 25 million years, so it is eminently predictable.
The reason for supposing Neolithic or Palaeolithic man could have had some awareness of this this, is that the Lascaux Caves contain an image of a long-horned bull, with six dots over its back. And anyone interested in astrology or astronomy will immediately recognize this symbolism, as this just has to be an image of Taurus with the six stars of the Pleiades over its back. Surely, this imagery is too precise and deliberate to be a mere coincidence.
This is interesting, because if this was indeed the intended imagery, then the familiar symbolism of the standard Greco-Egyptian zodiac, was known back in the Neolithic or Palaeolithic era, when these paintings were drawn. Far from being a relatively recent invention, as is often claimed, these ancient stargazers must have delineated the circle of the zodiac in a very similar fashion to modern astrologers. But did that happen? And when were these paintings composed and drawn?
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A 19th century Taurus, with the Pleiades on its back. (Author provided)
One of the prime investigators into this discipline is Helen Villadas of the Institut Pierre Simon Laplace, who has written several papers on the radio-carbon dating and uranium-thorium dating of paleolithic art, over three decades. The following papers summarize her results for various cave systems in southern France.
Evolution of Prehistoric Cave Art, Valladas et al, 2001.
A high-precision chronological model for Chauvet, Valladas et al, 2015.
Chauvet, France 37,000 to 28,000 BP
Radiocarbon AMS Dates for Paleolithic Cave Paintings, Valladas et al, 2016
Radiocarbon Dating of the Decorated Cosquer Cave, Valladas et al, 2016
Cosquer, France 32,000 to 20,000 BP
Radiocarbon Intercomparison Program for the Chauvet, Cuzange, M-T. et al, 2016
Chauvet, France 32,000 BP
The dates given here were mainly derived from C14 of soot deposits adjacent to the paintings, plus some U-Th dating of subsequent calcite deposits; so they should reflect the true age of the artwork, rather than the occupation era for the cave. And as long as limestone contamination of the carbon samples has been adequately screened and eliminated, these results should represent fairly accurate dates for these dramatic and impressive hunting scenes.
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But how else might we date this artwork?
Well, if this bull and six-dots does indeed represent Taurus and the Pleiades, then we can pose a further question, even if it is a somewhat troublesome one. Is this merely a depiction of Taurus hanging in the night sky, or is it a precessional image of Taurus?
If we allow our artist rather more knowledge than academia would like to admit to, and assume the latter depiction, then perhaps we can derive a precessional date from this composition. The interesting addition to this depiction, is the circular blob at the end of the bull’s horns, which is in exactly the right position to be an image of the Sun, for that is exactly how the ecliptic circle (and therefore the Sun) approaches Taurus in the heavens above. The circle looks like a natural feature on the cave wall, but one that an astute artist could easy turn into an image of the Sun, and therefore the precession of the equinox.
The Lascaux Taurus, with the Pleiades on its back, and circular blob above-left of horns. (Author provided)
So if this circular blob were indeed representative of the Sun approaching the horns of Taurus, and if this was indeed a precessional composition, then what would this depiction signify? Well, precessionally speaking, the Sun enters Taurus, in exactly this position, at the Spring Equinox in 6,600 BP. And this is the exact same imagery that we see in the Lascaux painting, with the Sun approaching the horns of Taurus.
A planisphere Taurus, with the Pleiades on its back, …and an approaching Sun, …in either 6,600 BP or 32,200 BP. (Author provided)
This would, of course, be a difficult thing for our Stone Age stargazer to actually see, as the Sun blots out the dim light of the stars as soon as it approaches the dawn horizon. So our venerable star-gazer would have to see the pattern of the stars half an hour before sunrise, and recognize that the Sun had just entered the constellation of Taurus - most of which would still be below the horizon. But do remember that Neolithic or Palaeolithic man had the same cognitive abilities as modern man, so if I can visualize the number of degrees of Taurus that still lay below the horizon at dawn, I am sure that our palaeo-astronomer could do likewise.
So if our ancient star-gazer understood precession, then this palaeo-cosmic design would represent a time just 6,600 years ago, which is much more recent than the C14 and U-Th dating would have us believe. So have Valladas et al derived an incorrect date for these paintings? Had the surrounding ‘old limestone’ contaminated her samples, giving an older and therefore incorrect date?
While this is possible, there is another solution that may bring harmony to the cave chronology. As I said in my recent megalithic era talk at Glastonbury, precession is a cycle and we do not have to be constrained by the most recent rotation of that cycle. The precessionary cycle repeats about every 25,600 years, and so we can look back into past cycles and their more ancient chronology. And according to the Voyager 4 planisphere, the Sun would have been approaching the horns of Taurus in this same fashion, back in 32,200 BP. And that is a date that agrees very well with the C14 dating of this cosmic cave-art.
Is this what this Lascaux Cave drawing was depicting - a precessional date 32,000 years ago? Unfortunately, we have no way of telling if this precessional Taurus bull-scene is depicting 6,600 years ago or 32,200 years ago, but the radiocarbon dating would suggest the latter. But once again this would present some formidable problems for the classical chronology and development of civilization; for here we have a pre-literate society that has apparently already divided up the cosmos into constellations and determined and tracked the slow 25,600 year motion of the precession of the Earth’s axis.
Would this even be possible, without outside intervention?
Top image: The Lascaux Taurus, with the Pleiades on its back. Source: Author provided
By Ralph Ellis
Cuzange, M-T. et al, 2016 Radiocarbon Intercomparison Program for the Chauvet, Cambridge Core. Available at: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/radiocarbon/article/radiocarbon-intercomparison-program-for-chauvet-cave/33F647B4470E349116F6BB53FC1076FC
Valladas et al, 2001. Evolution of Prehistoric Cave Art. Nature. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/35097160
Valladas et al, 2015. A high-precision chronological model for the decorated Upper Paleolithic cave of Chauvet-Pont d’Arc, Ardèche, France. PNAS. Available at: https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.1523158113
Valladas et al, 2016. Radiocarbon AMS Dates for Paleolithic Cave Paintings. Cambridge Core. Available at: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/radiocarbon/article/radiocarbon-ams-dates-for-paleolithic-cave-paintings/7FCEAC790DD3F2AC28F3B5629C96CC8A
Valladas et al, 2016 Radiocarbon Dating of the Decorated Cosquer Cave. Cambridge Core. Available at: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/radiocarbon/article/abs/radiocarbon-dating-of-the-decorated-cosquer-cave-france/930EA876D637A07CA71DE852BEE4F8E9