22 June 2012
Archaeological scientists at the University of Bristol achieved a rare ‘double’ this month when their research papers appeared on the front covers of the world’s two most prestigious scientific journals – Science and Nature – within a week of each other.
Research by Dr Alistair Pike in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology which found that Paleolithic paintings in Northern Spain date back at least 40,800 years – making them Europe’s oldest known cave art, appeared on the cover of Science on 15 June.
The cover image, by Pedro Saura, shows paintings on a ceiling in Altamira Cave, Cantabria of polychrome (brown, black and red) bison painted on top of earlier monochrome (red) artwork. The double-claviform figure in the centre right of the image was found to be at least 35,600 years old, indicating that, at the latest, the paintings were made shortly after humans first arrived in the area.
Research by Julie Dunne, a PhD student in the School of Chemistry and a former student of Dr Pike’s on Bristol’s MSci in Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, appeared on the cover of Nature on 21 June.
The study, co-authored by Professor Richard Evershed, presents the first unequivocal evidence that humans in prehistoric Saharan Africa used cattle for their milk nearly 7,000 years ago.
The cover image, by Roberto Ceccacci, shows a rock-art representation of domesticated cattle from the Wadi Imha in the Tadrart Acacus Mountains of the Libyan Sahara which is between 5,000 and 8,000 years old. Similar images – some of which even include scenes of milking – are widely distributed in the region and suggest that cattle played a big part in the lives of ancient humans in the 'Green' Sahara during the Holocene.
Rock art is notoriously difficult to date. However, Julie Dunne and colleagues carried out isotope analysis of absorbed food residues in pottery excavated from an archaeological site in the region. This confirmed that domesticated cattle, and a dairying economy, were part of early Saharan pastoralism.
The studies received widespread media coverage around the world, including articles in all the UK broadsheets and on the front page of The New York Times (rock art dating) and in New Scientist and Scientific American (dairying).
Dr Alistair Pike and Julie Dunne will give short talks about their projects at 4pm this Friday [22 June] in LT1, Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, 43 Woodland Road, followed by a drinks reception.
Science is the academic journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and one of the world’s top scientific journals
Nature is the world's most cited interdisciplinary scientific journal, according to the 2010 Journal Citation Reports