No Mystery in Ancient Rock Paintings

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August 18, 2015

Ancient rock paintings show ordinary images, not monsters of dinosaurs, a new study has asserted.

The paintings, done by the Fremont culture in what is now Black Dragon Canyon in Utah, date to the first millennium A.D. and were discovered in 1928.

For decades, archaeologists and others thought that the cave artwork depicted a single figure. An investigation in 1947 that involved tracing over the artwork with chalk resulted in an assertion that the artwork was one figure and that it looked like some strange form of bird. A 1970 report by a rock art specialist contained reference to what looked to be sharp teeth and a beak. And in 1979, a geologist said he was convinced that the artwork looked like a pterosaur, a flying reptile from the Cretaceous period. Pterosaur fossils have been found in the area, but those animals have been extinct since 66 million years ago.

The new study used high-tech scanning and computer analysis, including the use of X-rays, to highlight the original pigments in the rock art, even when they are not visible to the human eye. The computer scanning also eliminated any contamination that the chalking-over of the rock art had done.

As a result, scientists now say that the art work blends multiple figures: two people, a sheep, a dog, and a serpent.

The August issue of the journal Antiquity published the study.

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