A schist slab discovered in 2013 bore 13,800-year-old carvings depicting campsites of hunter-gatherers. Researchers Marcos García-Diez and Manuel Vaquero believe that the engravings show the first illustration of a social group among our Paleolithic ancestors.
The slab was discovered at the Molí del Salt site in northeastern Spain. It bears seven semicircular carvings with internal lines organized in two rows. A microscopic analysis of the schist slab revealed that the seven carvings were engraved using the same instrument and technique.
By studying the composition, archeological and ethnographic contextualization, as well as the individual carvings found on the schist slab, the researchers determined that the engravings show a Paleolithic campsite of early hunter-gatherers. The etched domes' dimensions also matched the semicircular huts where modern hunter-gatherers lived, particularly the Native American tribes' historical wigwams.
Vaquero, an art historian at the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution, said the Molí del Salt site was part of nomadic people's societies 15,000 to about 9,000 years ago. The hunter-gatherers developed hunting and working instruments during the time. They also killed and cooked animals for food and slumbered at the same place.
While evidence of human activity was discovered at the Molí del Salt site, scientists have yet to discover what Paleolithic societies looked like. The schist slab originally discovered in 2013 gave an illustration of how these hunter-gatherer societies lived. The study authors assumed that one hut housed four to five people, just like a modern hut or household would, and that a Paleolithic district could have included 28 to 35 residents.
"We think that the Molí del Salt engraving supports the hypothesis that there was a secular art in the Paleolithic, devoid of spiritual or religious meaning," said García-Diez, an archaeologist from the University of the Basque Country.
The findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE on Dec. 2.