London, May 29 – A team of archaeologists has scanned the highest prehistoric paintings of animals in Europe discovered in a rock shelter in the French Alps 2,133 metres above sea level.
The team from the University of York used car batteries to power laser and white-light scanners in a logistically complex operation to reveal the rock paintings of Abri Faravel that were discovered in 2010.
The rock shelter has seen phases of human activity from the Mesolithic to the medieval period, with its prehistoric rock paintings known to be the highest painted representations of animals (quadrupeds) in Europe.
Researchers recently published the scans in online journal Internet Archaeology.
“After years of research in this valley, the day we discovered these paintings was undeniably the highlight of the research programme,” said project lead Kevin Walsh from University of York.
“As this site is so unusual, we made the decision to carry out a laser-scan of the rock shelter and the surrounding landscape, plus a white-light scan of the actual paintings,” he added.
The scanning was logistically complex as the only source of electricity was car batteries, which, along with all of the scanning equipment, had to be carried up to the site.
“This is the only example of virtual models, including a scan of the art, done at high altitude in the Alps and probably the highest virtual model of an archaeological landscape in Europe,” Walsh said.
The project was part of a study that investigates the development of human activity over the last 8,000 years at high altitude in the southern Alps.
Artefacts found in Abri Faravel also include Mesolithic and Neolithic flint tools, Iron Age hand-thrown pottery, a Roman fibula and some medieval metalwork.
However, the paintings are the most unique feature of the site, revealing a story of human occupation and activity in one of the world’s most challenging environments from the Mesolithic to post-Medieval period.