The BP oil spill in the Gulf is currently the greatest ecological disaster in human history – devastating wildlife and gulf-based businesses alike. However, one surprising positive (of the very few) to come out of this tragedy has been that the clean-up has sparked and unprecedented number of archaeological discoveries. Animal bones, weaponry, pottery, and more, attributed to pre-historic native settlements, have been identified.
So far, teams of archaeologists hired by the oil giant have visited more than 100 sites and sent back a growing list of finds to labs for radiocarbon dating and other tests, though extensive excavations haven’t been done. Scholars have also accompanied cleanup crews to make sure they don’t unwittingly throw away relics.
Famed German film director Werner Herzog was recently granted access to the Chauvet Caves, which he filmed for an soon-to-be released film on paleolithic art in France. The film entitled “The Cave of Forgotten Dreams” focuses on the early peoples of France and the earliest creations of human art.
Herzog granted an interview to Archaeology Magazine in which he discussed the unique challenges of filming the site as well as the privilege of being trusted with its memorial.
ARCHAEOLOGY: There are hundreds of ancient sites in the world that have really fascinating artwork. What was it that attracted you to Chauvet?
WERNER HERZOG: It is one of the greatest and most sensational discoveries in human culture and, of course, what is so fascinating is that it was preserved as a perfect time capsule for 20,000 years. The quality of the art, which is from a time so far, so deep back in history, is stunning. It’s not that we have what people might call the primitive beginnings of painting and art. It is right there as if it had burst on the scene fully accomplished. That is the astonishing thing, to understand that the modern human soul somehow awakened. It is not a long slumber and a slow, slow, slow awakening. I think it was a fairly sudden awakening. But when I say “sudden” it may have gone over 20,000 years or so. Time does not factor in when you go back into such deep prehistory.
A new study published in this month’s edition of Nature shows evidence that early hominins (pre-human groups), specifically Australopithecus africanis and Paranthropus robustus demonstrate evidence that the males were more sedentary – often staying within close proximity to their home cave settlements, wherease the females were peripatetic – often migrating hundreds of miles within their lifetime.
If true, this study demonstrates that hominins (including humans) correlate to standing behaviors we see in other groups, such as Chimpanzees, but conflicts with the behaviors we see in Gorillas or Baboons
Such a pattern is similar to that seen in chimpanzee societies, where males in a particular locale tend to stick together to defend their turf from interlopers. In order to guard against inbreeding, the younger females are likelier than the males to migrate for mating. Copeland said the situation is different for gorillas. In those societies, the dominant male gorilla rules over a harem that tends to stay put, while younger males usually have to go someplace else to find their own mates.
This study can help us to understand the mating and migratory roles of early hominin groups. You can read more about this discover in this month’s Nature or via the Cosmic Log at MNSBC.