Amateur Scholar Cracks 20,000-Year-Old Cave Painting Code

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A furniture conservator and amateur scholar from London cracked a key 20,000-year-old cave painting code that has stumped archaeologists for years, a Durham University professor told the BBC.

Ben Bacon, an amateur scholar, spent countless hours online and in the British Library poring over photographs of cave paintings, “looking for repeating patterns,” the BBC reported Thursday. Ancient paintings depicting animals such as cattle and birds are found in caves throughout Europe. Also portrayed in these ancient drawings are series of small dots and other markings that, until now, have left scientists baffled.

Bacon’s hard work paid off when he discovered that a “Y” on the cave paintings likely referenced a birth, as it showed one line coming out of another. The dots on the paintings were probably references to a lunar calendar, according to the BBC.

Bacon’s friends and colleagues reportedly encouraged him to show his discoveries to researchers in the field despite Bacon being “a person off the street.”

He presented his findings to a team of investigators, including two professors from Durham University and University College London. Together, they learned the dots and markings on the caves corresponded with birth cycles of similar modern-day animals. The number of marks indicated the lunar month of the animals’ mating seasons, just as Bacon had suspected, the BBC reported.

“The results show that Ice Age hunter-gatherers were the first to use a systemic calendar and marks to record information about major ecological events within that calendar,” Archaeologist and Durham University professor Paul Pettitt told the BBC.

“In turn, we’re able to show that these people, who left a legacy of spectacular art in the caves of Lascaux [in France] and Altamira [in Spain], also left a record of early timekeeping that would eventually become commonplace among our species,” Pettitt continued, according to the outlet. (RELATED: Netflix Documentary Could Rewrite All Of Human History)

It was “surreal” to understand what hunter-gatherers had been saying thousands of years ago, Bacon told the BBC. The discovery allegedly proves our ancestors were more like us than we may have thought.

“These people, separated from us by many millennia, are suddenly a lot closer,” Bacon told the outlet.