View of the paintings from the interior of the rock shelter with the rock art colours enhanced with DStretch. Credit: Loïc Damelet, CNRS/Centre Camille Jullian; enhancement: C. Defrasne)About 2,133 meters above sea level, in the Southern French Alps, a small rock shelter is marked by human activity from various ages. Discovered in 2010, the shelter, known as Abri Faravel, features ceiling paintings, and human artifacts have been found in the surrounding area. While the paintings may look like brown smudges on rock, researchers believe that they feature a representation of two animals facing one another. And if that’s the case, Abri Faravel represents the highest site of prehistoric animal art in Europe.  

Researchers from the University of York recently took scans of this painting, and published them in Internet Archaeology    

“We never expected to find prehistoric paintings in this exposed area that affords so few natural shelters,” said Kevin Walsh, of the university’s Department of Archaeology, in a statement. “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.”

To power the scanners, the researchers utilized car batteries.

At the site, they’ve discovered Mesolithic and Neolithic flint tools, Iron Age hand-thrown pottery, a Roman fibula, and medieval metalwork. Altogether, the artifacts represent more than 8,000 years of activity in the alps.   

This work is part of a much larger project meant to contextualize human activity and landscape changes in the Southern French Alps. The University of York researchers are collaborating with France’s Centre Camille Jullian on the research. The project has been ongoing since 1998, according to The Yorkshire Post.

In their study, the researchers postulated that the painting may be representative of a hunting scene.

“We interpret the animal figures as a deer facing a dog,” the researchers wrote. “Both animals are very schematic. From a stylistic point of view, the radiating antlers of the deer are of interest since this will allow us to make comparison with rock paintings known elsewhere.”

A straight line, they believe, represents some projectile, perhaps an arrow or a spear.

“At first sight, there is no human figure within this ‘hunting scene,’” the researchers added. “However, we do wonder if the anchor-shaped image at the left of the deer might be a very schematic anthropomorphic figure.”