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Paintings in the Kapova cave (Southern Urals).

A Double-humped Camel Provides Clues to Long-distance Paleolithic Travel


Researchers have discovered an unexpected painting after graffiti was removed at a cave in the Southern Urals – a double-humped camel. Now they are explaining what it means about Upper Paleolithic travel and art.

According to EurekAlert!, the image of the two-humped camel was discovered in the Kapova cave in the Republic of Bashkortostan, Russia. It is painted in red ochre and partially outlined with charcoal. Early estimates suggest it dates to be between 14,500 and 37,700 years ago. That’s surprising because camels were not known to have existed in the Southern Urals in that period. V.S. Zhitenev, head of Moscow State University's South Ural archaeological expedition and leading researcher for the Kapova and Ignatievskaya caves, explained:

“The age of the drawings in this panel cannot be accurately established yet, but the results of uranium-thorium dating of the calcite deposits on which the image is painted, and which cover it, unambiguously show that the time period during which the drawing was made was during the Upper Paleolithic age, which is no earlier than 37,700 years ago and no later than 14,500 years ago. In the course of excavating the Kapova cave, only the upper layer of deposits with traces of activity of Paleolithic artists, about 17,000 - 19,000 years ago, has been dated so far.”


A painting of a two-humped camel was discovered in the Kapova cave.

A painting of a two-humped camel was discovered in the Kapova cave. (The Stopru)

One of the main conclusions researchers have made from the discovery of the camel cave painting is that Upper Paleolithic artists could have migrated over long distances. The discovery was made by Eudald Guillamet, a well-known restorative specialist cleaning graffiti off the cave. Vladislav Zhitenev described the importance of the find,

“It is very significant that this camel vividly confirms the theory of the Volga-Caspian direction of the connections among the people who created the sanctuary in the Kapova cave. This direction was earlier grounded in the use of ornaments from fossil shells brought from the Caspian region. Moreover, this direction is very interesting in terms of a possible way that the traditions of creating cave sanctuaries with wall paintings could have been spread, if we consider the Carpathian caves with Ice Age wall paintings.”

Kapova cave.

Kapova cave. (Витольд Муратов/CC BY A 3.0)

The camel painting is unique for its location, but IBTimes reports that an identical painting was found in 1980 in the Ignatievskaya cave in Russia. As V.S. Zhitenev said:

“This painting, cleared on the polychrome panel “Horses and Signs,” which has been well-known since the late 1970s, has no analogues in the art complexes of the caves of France and Spain, but does have some resemblance to the camel painting from the Ignatievskaya cave. Now it will probably become a significant image in the Upper Paleolithic cave bestiary of the Southern Urals.”

According to The Stopru, the first cave paintings were discovered in Kapova cave in 1959. Researchers have been able to identify more than 175 drawings since then. The number of unique paintings found in the cave means that it’s used as a template in the identification of other cave paintings around the world – especially those which are not so well-preserved. Paintings of horses, bison, mammoths, and woolly rhinoceroses as well as other local fauna have been recognized.

Rock paintings in Kapova cave.

Rock paintings in Kapova cave. (CC BY SA 4.0)

Zhitenev told the media that another interesting discovery was made alongside that of the camel and explained the significance:

“[…] fragments of the shape of another animal, apparently a mammoth, were cleaned off. This is the first well-preserved painting of a woolly giant from the Ice Age on the middle level of the cave. Cleaning calcite off from the newly-discovered figures confirmed the theory of a significant similarity in the general structure of the visual panels, with leading images of horses, and large geometric shapes, in which one may see representations of animals. The similarity in the arrangement of vertical and horizontal figures (or rather, explicit compositions) on panels located on two different floors indicates a profound connection between the ideas expressed by the Paleolithic artists.”

Paintings from the Kapova cave (Капова пещера), southern Ural. Replica.

Paintings from the Kapova cave (Капова пещера), southern Ural. Replica. (Public Domain)

Examination will continue at the cave in December; when the drier walls of the underground halls and galleries will make it easier to discern smaller details of the paintings.

Top Image: Paintings in the Kapova cave (Southern Urals). Source: Vladislav Zhitenev/Lomonosov Moscow State University

By Alicia McDermott

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Alicia McDermott holds degrees in Anthropology, Psychology, and International Development Studies and has worked in various fields such as education, anthropology, and tourism. She is the Chief Editor of Ancient Origins Magazine. Traveling throughout Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador, Alicia... Read More

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