AR09. 4 August 2004
Copyright © 2004 by Kevin
Sharpe. All rights reserved.
Rock Art Research 21:1 (May 2004), pp. 57-84.
HUMAN OR ANIMAL ORIGIN?
The Graduate College, Union Institute and University, Cincinnati, Ohio,
Harris Manchester College, Oxford University, Oxford, United Kingdom
Shirelake Close, Oxford OX1 1SN, United Kingdom
See also, ‘Responses to Kevin Sharpe,
“Line Markings: Human or Animal Origin?”’
And my, ‘Rejoinder to Comments by
Geoffrey D. Aslin, Robert G. Bednarik, and R. G. Gunn.’
ABSTRACT. The origin – whether human or animal
– of line marks found in a cave has obvious implications for what used the cave
and whether or not the prehistorian shows interest in the site. Some line marks
are obviously human, some are obviously animal
scratches, some are obviously geological and, from among the remainder, some
could have a human or an animal origin. This
paper focuses on markings in the last category and it seeks a balanced,
systematic, communicable, and empirical way to determine their origin.
KEYWORDS. Animal scratches,
Robert Bednarik, engraved rock incisions, Koonalda
Cave, prehistoric art.
line marks found in caves face a question: Did or did not humans make them? For
instance, lines on floor boulders in the Upper Chamber of Koonalda Cave, South
Australia, provoke a spectrum of reactions:
human. Sharpe (Sharpe and Sharpe 1976:
125; see also Sharpe 1982) describes one set as ‘some half-dozen
deeply-engraved parallel lines…at a slight angle to the vertical, at [25 millimeter] distances from each other, and
[12 to 20 centimeters] long. The strokes [are] vigorous and
emphatic.’ Many such lines –
though not all of them –
he considers humanly made and he attempts to refute the attribution of all to
animals such as bats and owls, by pointing to
(Sharpe and Sharpe 1976: 126-127):
presence of ‘horizontal lines and grids’;
lines that often ‘follow the lower surface of a convex boulder to near its
that ‘appear on the underside of overhanging ledges’; and
that sometimes appear ‘around and in very small
holes ([25 millimeters]
they are animal. John Mulvaney (1975: 280)
portrays the lines as ‘thin parallel [lines], suggestive of animal
animal. Robert Bednarik
(1992: 233) writes: ‘literature offers numerous
examples of erroneous identifications of rock markings [including]…the
description of animal scratches in caves as
petroglyphs,’ and he refers to the above two papers by Sharpe as examples.
Bednarik, in fact, considers the markings ‘mostly of non-trogloxenes which are
unable to cope with an environment they are driven into by circumstances, such
as the promise of water as indicated by increasing air humidity’ (Bednarik 1991: 40).
(A trogloxene is an animal species that
habitually enters caves.)
(Note that the human marks being discussed are not finger
flutings, but incised with a sharp object like a flint or piece of broken or
sharpened bone; the difference between flutings and scratches or incisions (in
their cross-sections, for instance) is usually obvious and needs no further
Prior to his two papers referred to above, Bednarik
identified six classes of Australian cave petroglyphs, including finger flutings,
tool marks, and shallow engravings (Bednarik 1990:
64-66). The last of these he describes as ‘incised with
usually single strokes of a pointed tool’ and he omits Koonalda
Cave as one of the Australian sites
that contain them.
The most extensive statement of Bednarik’s opinion against
the human origin of the Koonalda Upper Chamber marks appears in his 1991 definitive paper on the subject of animal
scratches. There he writes:
The scratch markings in Koonalda
Cave commence as soon as the
threshold of discernible light is passed. On the walls they generally
reach to about 1.5
m in height….Many of the floor boulders are also marked by sets
of incisions (Sharpe and Sharpe 1976)….The
boulder markings include no configurations or groove characteristics demanding
a human origin. They closely resemble marks I identify as mammalian
elsewhere, and I would in fact find it remarkable if, of all the suitably
endowed caves, Koonalda Cave would be the
only one lacking animal scratch marks − particularly as
it is such an outstanding animal trap, with
its enormous sinkhole entrance. I believe that a human origin should only be
postulated if an animal origin can be ruled
out with confidence. In my view, this has not been proven here, nor has it been
attempted to refute an attribution of the marks to animals.
No researcher who is familiar with parietal wall markings as a general
phenomenon (i.e., who has studied them thoroughly in more than 100 caves!) would support
the proposal (Bednarik 1991:
38-39, emphasis added).
In general, Bednarik believes that
certainly more than 99.9
percent…of wall or ceiling marks [that we have seen in the 320 or so caves we have studied]…are natural
marks. Most commonly they were produced by animals,
with their claws, wings, or bodies, and even with their horns or antlers…. [We
have established] clear criteria for identifying animal
scratch marks. Although we recognize a great variety of them, the most common
being those of bats, cave bears, opossums, and extinct Australian megafaunal
species, we believe today that a reliable separation can be achieved by an
experienced observer in nearly every instance (Bednarik 1993: 3;
see also Bednarik 1994b: 65).
Bednarik contributes extensively to work on animal
and natural markings (for instance, Bednarik 1991;
1994a-c; 1998) and he writes assuredly, but his
above generalized statements about the markings in Koonalda
Cave ought not to stand merely on
rhetoric or subjective interpretation. Where are Bednarik’s ‘clear criteria’?
On the other hand, Sharpe accepts that some of the lines are of animal
origin; how can he tell the
The question is how systematically and scientifically rather
than subjectively to distinguish in general between animal
and human line markings. Researchers who have seen line scratches or incisions
in many caves may feel confident that they can distinguish between human and
animal ones. Their subjective decision is
based on experience, itself based and consolidated from successive subjective
judgments. It can become comforting to ignore particular lines because they are
assumed to be of animal origin; it makes the
assimilation of what’s left as human an easier task. Habit can become ease,
which can become bias and dogma. What though of lines whose origin is
uncertain, where the experienced honestly find themselves unsure? What basis is
there for making such a decision? The field needs the formalization
of the experience of researchers so that decisions can be made on lines of
uncertain origin, so that inexperienced researchers can learn, and so that
debate and decision can be made on potentially incorrect guesses or
experience-based interpretations. The field needs communicable criteria,
reliable guidelines, and more objectivity. So, in an ideal world, what
distinguishes markings of a human origin from those of an animal
This paper extends previous publications on the subject and
offers avenues to explore that might result in more objective criteria for
distinguishing between animal scratches and
similar human line markings. A conclusive test for origin is not yet proposed,
though suggestions are gathered from which one might emerge. Bednarik himself
writes: ‘Discriminating the two types of marks is the crucial precondition for
any informed assessment of the rock art
component and, having studied such markings in about one thousand caves, I have
developed a healthy respect for the complexity of the subject’ (Bednarik 1994a: 37;
see also Bednarik 1991: 28).
Several sites in Australia
contain line markings similar to those on the boulders in the Upper Chamber of
Koonalda Cave. Four will be used to elaborate the research question and for
comparison with Koonalda.
Kintore and Cutta Cutta Caves, Northern Territory
W. P. Walsh initially discovered lines in the Kintore and Cutta
in 1963 (Bednarik 1985: 83;
Flood 1997: 51-55;
Layton 1992; Walsh 1964: 87-90). The majority of the markings occur in a
characteristic grouping of from three to five sub-parallel lines. At Cutta
Cutta, line width varies from 3.5
centimeters, length from a few centimeters to meters, and depth
from 0.2 to 2.0
millimeters depending on rock hardness. These sets often occur
so densely that they become inseparable. The marks occur on ceilings, walls, on
floor boulders, and from the entrance to the depths of the cave. The lines in Kintore
Cave resemble those in Cutta Cutta.
A film of clay, which in places contains a high-water mark of vegetation
debris, covers many marks in both caves (Flood 1997: 53;
Geological processes did not cause the markings (Flood 1997: 54),
but animals provide many potential line
makers. The bent-winged bat inhabits both caves. Walsh (1964: 89-91) suggests, though, that it is ‘too small
to cause the markings arranged in the observed pattern.’ The False vampire bat,
which inhabited Cutta Cutta
Cave until recently, would scratch
lines of the correct size and spatial distance (Walsh 1964). However, it apparently never inhabited Kintore
Cave and no markings appear in the
section of Cutta Cutta
Cave with abundant remains of the
species (Flood 1997). The support
for bats making the lines is weak.
suggests that, though goannas venture into caves up to 0.4
kilometers from daylight, they cannot climb up to ceilings or on
over-hanging walls. Dingoes venture into the dark areas of caves as well, but
could not make the high markings. This may also apply to the little northern
native cat, echidna, bandicoots, and possums. Ben Gunn (n.d.: 3-4)
disputes this and suggests that possums, lizards, and snakes could reach high
positions, overhanging walls, and ceilings.
Can animals scratch
ceilings (Jones 1925)?
Bednarik affirms Gunn’s standpoint and claims that ‘animal
marks commonly occur on flat cave ceilings’ (Bednarik 1987-1988:
2). Elsewhere, Bednarik (1994a: 24)
illustrates a marking on the ceiling of Robertson Cave,
South Australia, and adds:
Most observers would identify it as an engraving,
particularly as it has been said in Australian archaeological literature that
animal species do not mark cave ceilings. This
marking was in fact produced by an extinct megafaunal species.
In case it appears that scratches on cave ceilings are
common, it should be noted that Bednarik found only one cave bear scratch on
the ceiling of Grottes des Endrevies, France
(Bednarik 1991; 1994b: 62).
Perhaps several animals
made the Kintore and Cutta Cutta lines: bats marking the ceilings and various
animals marking the boulders and lower walls.
Walsh thinks, though, that the relative similarity of the markings refutes this
suggestion. In conclusion, he can find no ‘satisfactory explanation of these
abundant cave markings’ (Walsh 1964:
Walsh raises the possibility that humans made the lines, but
rejects this because he can see no motive, no representational forms in the
lines, and because the marks do not correspond to already accepted types of
Aboriginal rock art. Clearly, he prefers an animal
origin and he writes: ‘the most conclusive evidence would be provided by searching
for bone material in all the known sites and attempting to locate the relevant
common faunal element’ (Walsh 1964:
McEachern’s Cave lies in the southwestern corner of Victoria.
A. G. Link (1967)
discovered lines inside the cave and describes them as grouped in sets of four
and covering the walls, the ceiling, and fallen rocks. The lines’ depth and
width vary between sets, though the width of lines remains constant within
sets. Lengths vary from 5 to 30
centimeters and some younger sets overlay older sets.
137) favors an animal
origin for the marks. J. N. Jennings (1968:
52), attributing his
conclusions to the work of N. A. Wakefield (1967),
suggests that wombats scratched the lines when the floor level was considerably
higher than at present. He offers this interpretation for the markings in
Kintore and Cutta Cutta
Caves as well.
Link’s reference to the animal origin of the marks
originates from E. Troughton’s work (1957:
24; see also Jones 1925). Troughton writes that the
yellow-footed marsupial mouse, which nests in rock crevices and sandstone
caves, can create line marks. Its ridged footpads and long claws enable it to
climb about trees and vines and, he claims, to run upside-down over cave roofs.
This requires more thought and observation, however; the clinging to a roof by
a stationary or running animal would probably
not produce lines but pricks in the rock surface.
Tantanoola Cave, South
Bednarik, along with Geoffrey Aslin and Elfride Bednarik,
studied the extensive markings of Tantanoola
kilometers southwest of Mount
Gambier (Aslin, et al. 1985). The lines here generally have a
V-section and occur on all exposed wall surfaces, though not on the ceiling.
Most appear in sets of two to five parallel lines, each set usually deeper at
one end and becoming shallower and narrower until disappearing. The larger
lines occur as vertical marks and are generally deeper. Few of the lines are
straight and the only geometric shapes comprise grids of separate sets of
Earlier excavations by Norman Tindale (1933) in the cave revealed evidence for a
variety of fauna: bats, possums, rats, water rats, bandicoots, wombats,
Tasmanian devils, seals, giant kangaroos, and native cats. Gunn (n.d.) studied
the markings and thinks that the floor level has not changed and, he adds, at
least several of the species could reach the marked areas of the cave and have
the capacity to scratch the lines. He thus concludes that the marks are of animal
origin. Further, he writes, no positive evidence supports
a human origin. Bednarik agrees, and adds:
None of the line arrangements differ appreciably from
those studied at about 200
sites of the general region. Complexity of the ‘designs’ is in fact quite
moderate in comparison to that at some other sites where a human involvement is
precluded, but claw spacing is above the averages of other sites: a sample of 17 identifiable sets provided a mean line
spacing of 18.8
mm (Bednarik 1991:
Gunn’s logic does not convince:
The lack of change in floor level requires
The lack of discernible motifs or intentionally
produced geometric shapes need not obviate a human origin. Lines that mean
nothing to present-day westerners, or even present-day Aborigines, might have
possessed a wealth of meaning for the local prehistoric inhabitants, and we can
only grasp this hypothetically and tentatively (Bahn 1998). (Grids of separate sets of markings do not
imply deliberate construction.)
The markings appear on the dolomite bedrock and
on solidified sediment deposit. Both of these are very hard and a fingernail
cannot make an impression. Are claws sufficiently strong to scratch these
rocks? In addition, out of the many species listed, do any scratch rocks?
Sliding could produce vertical lines, but why would these animals
be sliding? How would sliding produce horizontal marks?
unpublished description of the improbability of human access to Tantanoola
Cave until recently makes the
animal origin case all the more probable.
An animal origin for the lines in the above four sites – Kintore, Cutta Cutta,
McEachern’s, and Tantanoola caves, based on published notes, seems probable,
but not firm.
History of the Confusion
Confusion between the human versus animal
origin of markings such as those in Koonalda surfaced some time ago. When
Alexander Gallus studied Koonalda during the 1950s
and 1960s, he fought to
establish the human origin of the finger flutings at the rear of the Upper
Chamber (Flood 1997).
Comments Bednarik (1987-1988: 1;
see also Bednarik 1993: 1):
Gallus…aroused [considerable skepticism] when he
announced that wall markings in Koonalda Cave, up to three hundred meters from
the entrance, were made by humans in the late Pleistocene….What made his claims
even more incredible was his insistence that early Australians had engaged in
systematic underground mining of [flint].
Later, Mulvaney’s book, The Prehistory of Australia (1975: 279-280; see also Mulvaney and Kamminga 1999: 365),
accepts the human origin for the flutings and ‘V-sectioned linear grooves.’
Gallus no longer need fight this battle.
Markings in other caves lead to similar confusion. Frederick
McCarthy includes Kintore and Cutta Cutta
Caves in his survey of the Aboriginal antiquities of the Northern
Territory because he thinks the lines have a human
origin. Under ‘Rock Engravings,’ he writes:
In the Kintore and Cutta Cutta caves, groupings of from 3-5
sub-parallel lines, from a few centimeters to several meters long, like human
or animal limbs, and some appear to be human
figures, are [cut] in soft rock surfaces or in mud coatings on the walls; some
very faint markings are [cut] in the hard rock or in secondary calcite
(McCarthy 1970: 58).
280) notes the general
association of human petroglyphs with ‘thin parallel [lines], suggestive of animal
Similar markings are present in darkness in two caves
near Katherine, Northern Territory,
including Kintore. Sylvia Hallam recorded similar markings on the roof of Orchestra
near Perth. Curiously, no animal
or reptile is thought capable of marking the walls or ceiling in some most
inaccessible places, and there are indications that the [lines] are of some
antiquity. There is a possibility, therefore, that the markings were made
through human agency by using claws as an engraver [but see
Bednarik (1987-1988: 2-11)]. However, W. P. Walsh informs
me that in the Northern Territory,
a bat species may cause the markings and he is collecting data.
Unlike McCarthy, Mulvaney appears
undecided as to the human as opposed to the animal origin of the ‘thin parallel
[lines].’ Other writers have decided. Walsh’s (1964: 87)
original paper on these two caves underplays the Kintore and Cutta Cutta
markings as human artifacts, but their exclusion from lists of human
petroglyphs is now commonplace (Flood 1997:
55). Bednarik (1991; 1994a)
assuredly says that animals made them. He
writes that he has seen markings that only animals could make and, by comparing
the marks, he concludes that the Kintore and Cutta
lines are animal scratches. After all, in Frank’s (1980: 146)
words, ‘animals including birds, bats,
possums, kangaroos, wombats, wallabies, goannas, and dogs can leave quite a
variety of markings on a soft cave wall.’
Within Rockfall C in the Upper Chamber of Koonalda Cave lie
smooth and rounded boulders cut with lines, as mentioned above (see Sharpe and
Fawbert In prep.; Sharpe and Whitehead In prep.). They occur on the boulders,
on walls meters above floor level (where the question of a change in floor
level does not apply), and down to floor level on the boulders (Sharpe
and Fawbert In prep.). They occur under overhangs (see also Sharpe and Sharpe 1976: 127)
and in tunnels and floor holes in Rockfall C such as ‘Chadwick’s Hole’ (Sharpe
and Whitehead In prep.: 17-18), where some of them are large in size.
These lines are perhaps the most controversial potential
petroglyphs in Koonalda. Plates 1-3 provide examples. Were they all made by animals
or were at least some of them made by humans? At least six types of prehistoric
line markings may occur in the Upper Chamber:
scratches that animals
cut with their claws;
scratch-like lines that humans cut with a
severed animal paw or a comb (Marshack 1977:
lines that humans incise with a flake of flint;
lines that humans score with a stick;
lines that humans mark with a piece of bone; and
flutings that humans draw with their fingers.
(Note the difference in terminology between scratches
(animal claw marks), incisions (lines humans make with flint), scorings
(lines humans make with a stick), bone marks (lines humans make with a
bone), and flutings (lines humans draw with their fingers) (Sharpe and
Van Gelder To appear). Note also that a unit
is a set of (near- or sub-) parallel lines that appear to have been made by one
hand or paw movement, and a cluster
is a group of units that exhibit a unity, for instance because they overlay
each other. To develop a more precise method for distinguishing the origin of
the line marks requires a more precise nomenclature.)
This paper develops a way toward distinguishing between fine
lines of Type 1, 2, and 3.
Plate 1. Rocks D2-a
and D2-b in Rockfall C, Upper
Chamber, Koonalda Cave, South
Plate 2. On Rock E5-a
in Rockfall C, Upper Chamber, Koonalda Cave, South
Plate 3. Rock E6-a
in Rockfall C, Upper Chamber, Koonalda Cave, South
Information from an initial examination of several clusters
in the Upper Chamber suggests:
Some lines are deep and some shallow, ranging in
length from 1 to 33
In cross-sections, the lines vary from a sharp V
to a broad and shallow U, and some have a squared-off cross-section.
The number of lines in the units on the boulders
varies from between one and eight.
The average number of lines in the units is
between three and four.
Units of more than one line vary from 0.2 to about 4
centimeters in width.
Lines within a unit tend to wander together and
The length of a unit does not appear to
correlate directly to the separation between the lines in the unit.
Units, in general, do not appear in mirrored
Horizontal units exist (see also Sharpe and
Sharpe 1976: 126-127).
within some units branch and some cross over and back.
Line markings can result from other actions than animal
scratching and prehistoric human engraving.
Rudy Frank (1980:
145) includes geological
along with animal sources in his comprehensive summary of non-human line-making
Weathering of joint and bedding features especially in
dolomites can etch out nice ‘incised’ grids and triangular patterns. Solutional
features such as fine anastamosies and karren can form a variety of intriguing
Did geology or vegetation form the boulder lines in the
Upper Chamber of Koonalda Cave (Bednarik 1994a
provides a thorough overview of such processes)? Geological process can
certainly change lines once made, such as those that affect moonmilk, in which
many finger flutings occur (Bednarik 1994b:
51-52). Did they create the boulder lines? Are the lines
solution tubes, for instance? Solution tubes abound at the entrance to the
cave. However, they are larger than the boulder lines, have a different
cross-section, and do not appear in sets of, say, two to five parallel marks.
They also disappear into the limestone surface as tubes, a characteristic
absent from the lines (Sharpe and Sharpe 1976:
126). This geological
mechanism is, therefore, probably not responsible for the boulder lines (see
also Bednarik 1991: 30-31).
Neither do the boulder lines appear to be the Rillenkarren that Bednarik (1994a: 29;
see also Bednarik 1991: 29) illustrates, or any of the other
geological and vegetation mechanisms he describes in his paper.
145-146, emphasis removed) continues his survey:
Some modern activities may unintentionally leave
confusing markings in caves. Hobnailed or tricounied boots can leave [line]
marks on quite hard rocks. Any works that have been undertaken such as guano
mining, tourist cave development, gating and digging for new caves, including
the use of explosives, may also leave their mark, not to mention any casual
marks as a result of routine visitation….These include [by] the blatant
graffitist intent on naming his [or her] activities wherever possible, the
casual doodler who has just found a nice medium to indulge in, and also the
intrigued discoverer who having found some engravings proceeds in the name of science, to make his
[or her] own set to work out how the originals were made.
None of these sources are likely to have produced the bulk
of the markings on the Koonalda boulders. This leaves, as possible sources, animals
and deliberate prehistoric human action.
Do these markings themselves display any peculiarly human
characteristics? Obvious geometric or otherwise recognizable motifs do not
appear. Are there other signs of human use? Humans used Rockfall C. Wood (often
as small twigs and often now crushed to powder) and charcoal (small, burnt
stubs and large pieces of burnt wood) litter many parts of the floor and sit on
some rocks. Some of the bone remains of larger animals
show cut marks. A number of pieces of bone, including a set of vertebrae, lie
under floor slabs, together with small, lined pieces of limestone (Sharpe and
Fawbert In prep.; Sharpe and Whitehead In prep.: 10). Some floors appear cleared of stones that have
been placed on the floor’s peripheries; stones set up against one lined surface
produce such an enclosure (see Plate 3).
A flint flake perhaps used as an engraving tool (Sharpe and Whitehead In prep.:
23; Sharpe and Fawbert In
prep.) was uncovered in an area of the Upper Chamber where flint does not occur
naturally. As well, line markers –
if human – may have
used the cut pieces of bone.
Hand marks and flutings obviously of human origin exist on
the soft portions of the wall further into the Upper Chamber (Faulstich 1992). Present also are abraded grooves,
large humanly made line markings. They and the boulder lines occur together near
the Squeeze end of the Upper Chamber (Maynard and Edwards 1971: Plate 25;
Sharpe and Fawbert In prep.). (The three
sorts of markings – boulder lines, abraded grooves, and flutings – resemble
each other, though they differ in their tools of execution and their media.)
Rockfall C with its boulder lines probably continues the same floor as at the
Squeeze with its boulder lines, where the finger flutings and abraded grooves
appear on the walls and ceiling (see Sharpe and Fawbert In prep.), with more
recent rockfall debris covering the floor between. Further, climbing under the
surface rocks between Rockfall C and the Squeeze leads to marked boulders,
twigs, and charcoal similar to those in Rockfall C.
This conclusion about the cave floor answers one of Bednarik’s
(1991: 38) objections to the human origin of the
boulder lines. He thinks that the visible scratch-like lines
are more recent than the huge roof falls that have
taken place here….They, and the wall scratches, refer to the most recent level
of the talus. Since the finger flutings in the same passage (Gallus 1968) precede the most recent rockfalls,
the marked clastics cannot be chronologically compatible with them.
The boulder incisions (‘the marked clastics’) – if human – may well be ‘chronologically
compatible’ with the flinger flutings.
Two obvious features of the markings may count, however,
against a human origin and for an animal
origin: the lines occur in units of parallel lines that look like animal
scratches, and the density of the markings is so great in places that
separating out units or individual lines becomes impossible. On the other hand,
abraded grooves and flutings usually also occur in units or (sub)parallel lines
and their origin is human. The flutings, too, are dense in places.
Turning to discuss a potential animal
origin for the boulder lines, several matters emerge from the literature and
The literature on the fauna of the present and prehistoric Nullarbor
Plain (in which Koonalda
Cave lies) helps form a list of
potential line makers. Bednarik (1991:
38-39) lists the animals
represented by remains inside the cave: Sarcophilus, four genera of Dasyuridae, Peramelidae, and Macropodidae, including
possibly Macropus rufus. Note the difference when considering the
occurrence of species in the cave between the Gallus Site and the Upper Chamber
sections of the cave; presence in the former does not imply presence in the
latter, especially given the cliff between them. The list can omit animals
of insufficient size.
An investigation of the behavior and scratchings of species
on the list can be undertaken (see Sharpe In prep.). Some potential animal
line-markers may have frequented the cave regularly. The Tasmanian devil
probably used the Gallus Site area of the cave as a lair (Thorne 1971: 46;
Walter and Pledge 1967: 43). It may have also used the Upper Chamber,
though, unlike the Gallus site, the Upper Chamber lies in total darkness. Do
the bone remains in Rockfall C show signs of gnawing by this animal? Does this
animal mark its territory with its claws or
otherwise scratch rocks? The Tasmanian wolf was evidently also active in
Humans and animals have had access Koonalda
Cave through the current entrance
probably for tens of thousands of years. Explorations have turned up no other
entrance to the cave or indications of one. (An entrance may have existed at
times of lower sea levels from other caves via channels now flooded beneath the
lakes of the current upper water table.) However, access to the Upper Chamber
from the Nullarbor Plain requires the ability to
traverse three substantial cliffs: the doline, the entrance incline, and the
slope from the Gallus Site to the Upper Chamber, the last in darkness. Could
non-climbing megafauna such as kangaroos access the chamber by themselves?
An animal able to see in
limited light might sharpen its claws on or otherwise scratch the rocks,
especially a trogloxene that might use the Upper Chamber as a lair. Given
Rockfall C’s location in pitch-blackness, its difficulty of access, its depth
within the cave, and the freely available rock on the surface of the Nullarbor
Plain, however, it seems most unlikely that a non-trogloxene would
go there to perform some daily activity that requires clawing. The same applies
to scratches resulting from non-trogloxene animals
casually wandering around. Their presence in the Upper Chamber suggests,
therefore, their being carried in there, or their climbing in to escape danger,
or their falling into the cave by accident and climbing to the Upper Chamber.
At least a proportion of the animals
would not have escaped the Upper Chamber and would have died there. The remains
of larger animals in Rockfall C and, more generally, in the Upper Chamber
comprise dispersed vertebrae, crania, and cut bones (all perhaps of large
kangaroos). What do these bones say about how they were deposited here? A
scavenger may have removed much of the remains of any trapped and dead animals.
The animal candidates’
continuous use of the cave suggests another line of inquiry. Unlike Rockfall C,
the most recent rockfall, Rockfall E, contains no markings, bones, or torches.
Why did the animals whose habitat remained
much the same not mark this rockfall as well as Rockfall C? Rockfalls A, B, and
D are also unmarked. Only the smooth rounded boulders show the large number of
markings. Perhaps the other rockfalls (A, B, D, and E) occurred after the line
marker, for instance the Tasmanian devil, became extinct on the mainland of Australia.
Alternatively, perhaps geological processes have removed the lines from the
rockfalls, though this probably requires an unrealistic time scale (see Sharpe
and Fawbert In Prep.). Further, the presence of bones within the unmarked but
rough rocks of Rockfall D requires an explanation.
If an animal fell down the
first or second of the access cliffs (unlike these two, the third cliff
requires climbing upwards), this may imply something about its condition once
inside the Upper Chamber. Perhaps frightened or injured animals
made the lines in frantic attempts to escape the cave. Perhaps sliding and
trapped animals made many marks in multiple
attempts to scramble up rocks (Bednarik 1994a:
36-37). Is franticness apparent in the lines?
Some of the above ten points about the lines on the boulders
also further the animal-related discussion:
Two paws could have made those units with more
than five lines.
Units in mirrored pairs suggest that execution
at the same time by the left and right paws of an animal.
While a multiple animal-origin
(or a multiple swipe by the same animal) may
explain branches and line crossings within a unit – slashes a second time
creating the crossings or branches – those that appear as a single movement
lend support to a human origin.
This preliminary study of the Koonalda boulder lines remains
inconclusive and shows the need for further research. Some matters may count
for an animal origin and some may count for a
human origin. Neither ought one to assume that all the lines were made by animals
or all by humans (Flood 1997:
48). Perhaps animals
scratched the finer ones and humans the coarser ones. Just visually – referring to Plates 1-3
– perhaps Plates 1 and 3
may show human markings while Plate 2
may show animal scratches. In this case, human
and animal lines would mix with each other in
this area of the cave, as occurs with bear scratches and human line marks in
many European caves.
What made the lines in caves like those on the Koonalda
boulders: animals or humans or both? The
discussion on Koonalda is inconclusive, but how could one definitively
distinguish between the lines that different agents make? A definite,
methodical, and objective method ought to be the aim (Clegg, et al. 1977).
Bednarik promised ‘clear criteria for identifying animal
scratch marks’ (Bednarik 1993:
3). An examination of his writing on the subject
shows, rather, a lack of conclusiveness, though he moves in the right
direction. His case and the critique are as follows.
Lines that only animals
could make are a key in Bednarik’s case. Princess
Margaret Rose Cave,
South Australia, was, he
believes, inaccessible to prehistoric humans (Bednarik 1991) and the marks in it, therefore, must be
animal made. Aslin provides evidence that humans could and did not enter Tantanoola
Cave as well, at least until modern
times. The lines there, therefore, he says, should be taken as animals
Alsin provides other criteria for distinguishing animal from
human lines (alluded to as well in the writings of Walsh and Bednarik):
If…marks occur with very easily identifiable
petroglyphs, i.e., circles –
divisioned, barred, or concentric –
and parallel grooves, etc., then one will need to examine the markings more
closely [because they may be human]. If the markings are on the wall alone and
there are no other visible signs of floor surface habitation of early people,
then the marks should not be taken as human markings (Aslin 2003: 1).
In other words, if not obviously human then they are
probably animal. Aslin continues:
Invariably claw marks occur near old high water levels
suggesting that when an animal falls into a
cave it usually goes down to the smell of water, a natural instinct for
survival. It becomes disoriented and tries to claw its way out of its watery
environment until it grows too weak and eventually dies in its watery grave….A
few meters above its resting place would be the claw marks of the animal
left in its desperate attempt to escape the water….On the first contact with
the wall, the claws are splayed and will dig deeply into the surface, gradually
tapering off, becoming a more shallow mark and quite often it will dig its
claws in deep for one last grasp at the wall just above the water line (Aslin 2003: 1).
Find an environment where it makes sense that animals
would scratch, examine those marks and use them to typify animal
The markings on the boulder, as being low down, suggests
they would be animal….On rock faces, patterns and density of claw
marks are uniformly similar in caves so when a researcher enters a cave, they
would expect to see, through experience and knowledge, the same repetition of
marks (Aslin 2003:1).
The same principle might apply to human marks:
I have not seen any scrapings that could be attributed
to an animal in places that they could not
have reached either by standing upright or jumping from a ledge or rock. If it
was on a sheer, vertical wall, above animal
height but in reach of a human then perhaps [a person] could have made them and
my interest is piqued (Aslin 2003:
Not only can Bednarik tell through such means that
particular lines were animal made, but
sometimes he can also tell what species made them. ‘Species differentiation is
often possible between markings, partly because they permit inferences
concerning the substantially varying climbing abilities’ (Bednarik 1991: 38).
Expanding on this, he writes (1991:
Tentative species identification from claw marks is
often possible, and occasionally definite identification, by a detailed
assessment of factors such as: line spacing between individual sets;
configuration of claws at point of commencement; height (where the former floor
level can be reliably inferred); inferences regarding mobility of fore leg and
shoulder; indications of body size (by spatial restrictions); and impressions
of paws on soft or soot-covered surfaces.
Then we might consider the reason why an animal
might scratch. Aslin (2003:
Scratches can be differentiated from each other and
there are many variations. 1) Frantic Scratches. These are a lot
deeper. In some caves I have seen where the limestone walls have been turned to
powder from repeated clawing at the walls. 2)
Climbing Scratches. Usually long.
Shows deep impact to the wall, gradually tapering and becoming shallow. In most
cases animal claw marks are deeply cut, but
some can be shallow. In both cases the mark is vee-shaped at the end of it….Animals,
using their paws to make marks, leave marks from all claws leaving a set of
Scratches extend to 5.5
meters above the present floor in Princess
Margaret Rose Cave.
Bednarik suggests that they may relate to desperate attempts by animals
to escape, or they may indicate former cave floor levels. Scratches even higher
up exist in Robertson Cave
and, in Gran Gran
he found a marked shaft, 18 meters deep.
Animal claw marks can
be found at most levels, but they are particularly dense wherever upward progress
was impeded –
especially in an aven about 10 m from the floor. The
numerous distinct claw scratches on the perfectly flat, horizontal underside of
a block measuring about 1 m across, located some 9 m
above the floor, bear witness to an incredible climbing ability (Bednarik 1991: 35).
Bednarik wants to ascertain three things – what he calls
‘Species,’ ‘Vehicle,’ and ‘Motivation’ –
about a unit or a cluster of marks:
Species: the animal
species that made it.
Vehicle: the part of the animal’s
body that made it. And
Motivation: the purpose or reason why the animal
He adds (Bednarik 1991:
39): ‘I submit that the
status of an animal-made mark is determined by
[these] three co-ordinates….The essential characteristics of each animal
mark are determined only by these three factors.’ Bednarik probably intends
that each coordinate of values for these three variables provides a unique set
of scratches. Details for this series of points to create the triangulation of
the three coordinates will, Bednarik claims, lay the ground for claiming or
discounting an animal origin for particular
lines. If certain marks make sense within a particular triangulation, then the
animal species that the triangulation
represents did scratch them. He even claims that it renders animal
scratches ‘self-evident’ (Bednarik 1991:
28). Humans may have made the
This method of triangulation requires further thought and
work. Certain marks suggest that a specific activity for a specific reason by a
specific animal’s specific body part occurred
at that place. If so, does that behavior there seem reasonable? For instance,
certain marks high up in a chimney may all suggest scaling to escape. Do these
same marks appear on a flat rock in the daylight portion of an easily accessed
cave and, if so, do they also really suggest scaling to escape? The challenge
facing Bednarik is whether he can be so consistent about scratches that
Species/Vehicle/Motivation forms a self-contained and predictable
triangulation, a science; Bednarik appears to think so, but he has yet to
establish and publish this.
Isolating the species provides a range of possible
scratches. The vehicle reduces this range. And the reason reduces it even more.
But room for ambiguity still exists. Perhaps the three factors need the
addition of another, such as location of the scratches, to produce a more
adequate matrix of variables. For a
pair of units, suppose research narrows them down to the forelimbs of Macropus titan, an extinct giant
kangaroo. Bednarik’s triangulation would now provide a range of reasons for the
animal to scratch the marks including, say,
fear (thus trying to escape) and claw sharpening. Another factor, perhaps
location of the markings, would help further narrow down the range of possible
reasons. Do the scratches appear 18 meters up a pitch-dark
shaft or two meters up a wall in the lighted portion of a cave that the
macropus titan can easily access? The answer to this type of question offers
another coordinate to form of matrix of factors that helps Bednarik’s original
triangulation more adequately describe animal
A fuller discussion of these four variables follows.
For a particular cave, a list of potential animal
scratch makers needs to be compiled.
Which animals inhabit(ed) the cave, the region, or
caves in the region? (Note that many marks may be megafaunal marks (lines that
large extinct species made) (Bednarik 1991).)
locally or in this cave uncovered the remains of any animals?
If so, which ones? Excavations may add other information
as well, for instance whether bones remain near certain lines may influence the
answer as to what made them. Aslin (2003:
Some…bones have been
identified being those of the extinct Protemnodon
(giant wallaby) and Sthenurus
(kangaroo species). These bones lay under claw marks on the walls, made by the
animal when it became trapped. The marks are
near the lower part of the walls and floors and are quite deep and spaced
approx. 18 mm apart. Above
these are smaller sets of claw marks
noticeably different from the lower ones.
The list of species so produced needs to be narrowed down:
In a stable environment, the scratching behavior
by the same species would probably remain constant over time – with old and new
markings visible – demonstrating a continuous use of the cave for similar if
not the same reasons. Thus, marks stopping at a particular time may imply that
animal’s local disappearance and this may help narrow down the list of potential
Because the concern has to do with humanly made
lines similar to animal scratches, many bat
and bird species are too small to consider (Bednarik 1991: 31-32).
It may be possible then to roughly prioritize the remaining
list by the likelihood of the species having been in the cave:
Which local animals
venture(d) at times into caves, and
which ones into the darker regions of caves?
What species have been identified from excavations in this cave?
If the cave is such that animals
might fall into it, what animals
might do so?
If an animal’s paw prints appear in (once) soft or
sooty surfaces, what was the species?
In addition, the list may probably want to distinguish
between relevant ages of the animal since, for
instance, juveniles may produce lines of different sizes from adults.
A particular species has several vehicles, as Bednarik calls
them, with which to mark the rocks, walls, and ceilings (front paws left and
right, hind paws left and right, antlers, tusks, fur, and so on). These need
The Species and Vehicle factors provide two coordinates for
the matrix that may lead to descriptions of animal
scratches. The third factor perhaps necessary for descriptions is Motivation.
Bednarik writes: ‘Once we have considered why animals
might mark cave walls, we will find it considerably easier to recognize the
ensuing marks’ (Bednarik 1991:
28). Given a list of all
possible past and present animals that do or
may enter the cave, their behavior needs investigating, especially behaviors
that might result in line markings. Bednarik thinks that animals
would mark inside caves for many reasons, which may differ from place to place.
Some of the following possibilities come from his lists (Bednarik 1991: 39-40; see also Bednarik 1991: 37-38; 1994a:
37; 1994b: 59):
daily climbing and walking around (by trogloxenes; in Australia,
Bednarik (1991: 31-32)
suggests, mostly possums).
Incidentally from other everyday and normal
behaviors (‘the marks of [flying] species, the polishing of rock by countless
bodies rubbing against them, the scratches of the horns of ungulates in cave
entrances, or the marks caused when constructing burrows’ (Bednarik 1991: 40)).
territory (by trogloxenes).
behavior or excitement.
further into a cave (by trogloxenes, during which they may clear narrow
passages and, in doing so, may scratch rock surfaces).
(for instance by adolescent trogloxenes).
(implausible, Bednarik thinks, for most marks).
(for instance by cave bears after hibernation).
Attempting to escape (because of a blocked an unreachable cave entrance).
10. Fighting (especially in a confined
11. Struggling when caught in snares or
trapped under rock falls (especially for deep horizontal scratches).
stress from pursuit by a predator
(perhaps withdrawing into the deeper parts of a cave and seeking a way to
pain from serious illness or injury
(under which an animal may seek refuge in a
cave or because it fell down a shaft).
The reason why an animal
scratches inside a cave suggests where the markings might occur, as well as how
the animal made them. The reverse question
also applies. What does location imply about the lines that potential animal
scratchers might make there? Thus, an important area for research, and one that
Walsh and Aslin are quite aware of, relates to the position of the markings
within the cave. These location matters allow the narrowing down of the results
from the above investigations of Species and Vehicle. Location considerations
require a climbing animal or one with a long
reach, or an airborne one, or higher floor levels at the time of scratching (an
empirical supposition that merits investigation). High climbing markings may
imply natural and agile climbers; if so, perhaps sliding and scratching should
not appear. Sliding and scratching high up may imply a non-climbing species.
Certain extant species that lack the ability to climb can evidently gouge
narrow the range of animal species.
require an animal that can reach its paw down
that far and at the appropriate angle. Similar lines both high up and low down
narrow the potential species.
The markings’ accessibility – or at least accessibility at the time of marking –
also narrows the range of animal species.
Marks found under overhangs or in small holes,
crevices, and even tunnels may imply something about an animal
line maker’s agility and size.
The type and condition of the rock bearing the marks at the time of
scratching may limit the number of species. Are any strong enough and do any
have claws sufficiently sharp and hard to incise the rocks?
Markings in darkness
may lead to the question: Which animals
are trogloxenes and might venture into the dark regions of a cave? Which animals
can see in the dark? How much light do they need so they can see? Which animals
are comfortable being in the dark? Trogloxenes may scratch a certain range of
marks whereas, if a non-trogloxene not commonly found in dark places entered an
unlit section of a cave, it may scratch another range of marks because it may
be feeling something quite different, like fear.
versus unmarked surfaces: not all surfaces in a cave are marked, so why did
animals only mark where they did?
Research following the above provides the ranges of the four
variables from which to create a matrix to help understand animal
scratches. Each four-valued coordinate in the matrix will produce a list of
characteristics of animal scratches (Bednarik 1991: 40).
For example, the claws of the front left paw of an adult macropus titan,
trapped in the dark and trying to escape, might produce lines two meters up a
limestone wall that look like…. To help create this list of what the scratches
look like may require the results of animal
studies. Several matters deserve consideration:
What, if anything, distinguishes the look of frantic scratches?
How do the forelimb
scratches of an animal compare with their hind-leg ones?
Given its physical size, agility, climbing and
flying capabilities, where could the
animal make lines: on ceilings, near the
floor, and how far up the walls?
of claws an animal has relate to the number of
lines in a unit it makes.
and relative positions of the claws on the paw that made a unit may imply
something about the configuration of the marks, especially at the beginning of
may correlate with the depth of lines in a unit. Short claws may not make deep
lines, for example.
of the claw that made a line may help determine its cross-section.
The potential inter-claw spacing an animal may
achieve might relate to the width and spread of lines in a unit it scratches.
An animal whose
claws are fairly set in their
relative spacing may lead to a consistent inter-line spacing in the scratch.
species scratches the marks partially determines the length of the unit. For units of lines on a vertical face, the
distance that a paw can draw in any one stroke with the animal
standing on the floor is relevant, as is the animal’s
relationship between the length of the
unit and the inter-line spacing may prove important unless the animal
was sliding. Closely spaced and shallower lines in short units may require small
distance between an animal’s paws restricts the distance between a
pair of units that the animal’s two paws make
mobility of an animal’s shoulder and fore leg suggest where it may scratch and something
about what its scratches would look like.
animal that initially applies its full force
on the wall, gradually removing pressure on
its paws as it moves them down the rock face, may produce a vertical unit that
cuts deeply at the top, becoming shallower and narrower until it disappears.
Creating a matrix for any site, or a database of information
that may be drawn upon for constructing a matrix for a particular site, with a
photographic and descriptive archive detailing what scratches would look like
corresponding to the variables in the matrix, has yet to be done.
However, what if humans made lines that look remarkably like
animal scratches? People could imitate the
scratches or accidentally incise lines that look like them. Or perhaps they
could use severed paws to mark the surfaces. Bednarik’s triangulation thus
probably will not help support an animal
origin for particular marks, unless:
other factors such as location of the markings augment
the triangulation to form a more complete matrix of variables;
the matrix is self-consistent;
the matrix moves from hypothesis to tested and
established theory; and
research can isolate and rule out human
Even when these are addressed, the matrix would provide a
description for animal scratches not a proof
of their origin; the matrix is descriptive not determinative. To differentiate
definitively between animal and similar human
marks requires a set of separate and objective criteria.
The following two topics ask questions of a particular
cluster or unit of scratch-like markings to see if humans or animals
made them. Hopefully, they, building on the above discussion of Koonalda and
other caves, together with the extension of Bednarik’s method of triangulation
into a matrix, may help us prepare to forge better tools for the investigation
of Koonalda and other sites.
The physical dimensions, positions, and character of the
markings may provide some required clues:
Robert Edwards (1965: 17-18)
wrote the following after his attempt to reproduce abraded grooves at Nackara
Springs, South Australia, with pieces of local quartz:
By experiments with fortuitous
pieces of this rock, having sharp edges, it was possible to produce markings
identical with those made by the Aboriginals. The action of cutting the grooves
caused little damage to the edges of the stone fragments used. A close
examination of plastic negative impressions of the grooves show that the margin
of the cutting tool was uneven as minute [striations] on the walls of the
V-shaped cavities are evident.
Another writer says that cuts with ‘small
parallel grooves within the main [line]’ suggest a jagged cutting edge, whereas
a claw ‘would leave a single, flatter groove’ (Anon. 1982). (Steel cutting edges also do not usually
leave striations.) If animal claws are smooth,
the existence of minute striations inside a line marking may indicate its human
manufacture with a piece of rock (not necessarily flaked or trimmed for the
purpose). Difficulties may arise for this criterion with fine lines and a
granular rock surface because it can hide evidence of secondary striations.
Do the cross-sections of the lines suggest the use of particular tools? A
correlation between answers to this and point 12
below may suggest a human origin.
A number of units on the Upper Chamber boulders in Koonalda
Cave contain ‘branches’: lines that
the same instrument makes (with the same cross-section) and that branch off
along the length of the parallel lines in the unit. This may indicate a human
origin because animals may not scratch this
A similar situation occurs with sub-parallel lines in a unit crossing over
Lines. One paw of five claws may not produce a unit of six lines; probably,
only humans could.
direction. Careful inspection of the two ends of a line may reveal the
direction in which it was drawn. A human may have made any line that begins
toward the bottom of a wall and moves up it. The alternative suggests an animal
airborne or one tall enough to reverse its paw through that height, or one
reaching downward and scratching upward.
direction. Aslin (2003:
2) writes: ‘Animals
only leave marks in the vertical or near vertical position. They are unable to
scrape sideways for any length of time.’ Animal
clawing may not usually produce horizontal lines on a vertical face, especially
in higher places (Bednarik 1994b:
62; 1991: 32).
spacing. Significant variations in inter-line spacing along a unit, the
lines wandering apart and together so as to exceed possible digital
flexibility, may indicate that a human cut them separately.
instrument. The same instrument’s producing various sized and
interline-spaced units in the cluster may reinforce
a human-origin impression.
10. Design and style. The presence and
especially the repetition of recognizable motifs or geometric forms or composed
clusters of units follows Aslin’s (quoted above) and Frank’s criterion for
distinguishing between Aboriginal and other markings. Writes Frank (1980: 146):
‘Things to be taken into account are whether there is any style or design to
the markings, for example, figures, patterns, grids, concentric, parallel or
bifurcating lines.’ In many of the clusters that Alexander
1979) analyzes, units
follow touching one another to build a meandering sequence, or a series of
lines cut across one or two in a comb-like manner. Motifs, forms, or composition
may imply a human origin, while the absence of incontrovertible motifs, forms,
and compositions does not imply animal origin
or preclude a human origin; geometric motifs lie one side of a fragment of
mammoth ivory that Marshack (1979:
280-281) describes, while on its reverse lie
11. Aesthetics. The recurrence of aesthetic
elements, which use the rock shape and surface, may point to the human origin
of the markings. These may include an ‘enhancement of natural hollows or protuberances’
(Frank 1980: 146) or the imitating of surface cracks (see
also Marshack 1979: 305).
12. Implement remains. Possible implements
that human line-makers may have used include: a flake of flint or other rock, a
sharp stick, a sharp piece of bone, a sharp piece of shell, small
flakes set parallel in a resinous substance on the end of a stick, a paw of an
animal set with its claws extended, and
hand-held or hafted incisors. Does archaeological evidence exist from the site
in question or any other appropriate site to support
the presence (and perhaps use) of one or more of these implements, and does
ethnographic evidence exist to document their use in relevant societies
(compare with Arndt 1962;
Gould 1969: 121-128;
McCarthy 1967: 85, Fig. 65
13. Elevation remains. High human lines may
have required the use of specific tools such as long sticks or platforms. The
existence of the remains of such evidence may support
a human origin of high marks.
14. Human continuity. An argument from continuity
might corroborate other evidence of a human origin for line markings. It
centers on readily discernible types of markings found in a cave. Some markings
are of indisputable human origin; for example, handprints or finger flutings
drawn over a soft surface. Abraded grooves also have a probable human origin
and, in Australia,
a continent-wide distribution. If markings like these lie in close proximity,
perhaps humans may have (but not conclusively) also marked other close-by but
more debatable types of lines. The human-origin thesis may find further
corroboration if the immediate area of the lines contains evidence of human
use, such as charcoal, stone tools, and cut pieces of bone. The argument from
continuity places some of the onus on animal-origin
proponents to find evidence for their case when they accept the human origin
for the other markings at the same location, particularly when additional
evidence points to human use of the cave. Excavations in Kintore
Cave support human presence near a
marked boulder (Mulvaney 1975:
189-190). Walsh (1964:
90) could distinguish two
types of markings in the cave; is one animal-made and the other human-made?
15. Scratch imitations. A similar line of
argument comes from Bednarik (1994b),
though others also mention it. He notes the occurrence of flutings close to animal
marks (cave bear scratchings in European caves) and suggests that the human
flutings might imitate the animal markings.
See Plate 4. Paul Faulstich (1986: 162)
also suggests that perhaps animal claw marks provided the impetus for human
flutings. In Bara Bahau Cave, France,
for example, flutings lie over bear scratches (Bednarik 1985: 87;
see also Gallus 1968: 45). The same scenario could apply to line
incisions, that animal scratches inspired
humans to create imitations. Bednarik (1986:
166) suggests that, while no
objective evidence supports a cave bear cult
in Paleolithic Europe, many caves contain charred and smashed osteological
material; perhaps humans venerated the cave bear and replicated its claw
markings with their own scratch-like incisions. Perhaps, following the same
line of thought, Paleolithic Australians similarly venerated a megafaunal
kangaroo and replicated its claw markings. The Upper Chamber of Koonalda Cave
contained a cranium (perhaps of a kangaroo), vertebrae, and other cut bones,
perhaps indicating a relationship perceived by the human cave users and the animal.
Plate 4. Human flutings in association with probably
cave bear scratches. The former in places appear to imitate the latter. Rouffignac
16. Severed paws. Did humans create lines
with a severed animal paw that mimicked animal
scratches (Hallam 1971: 101; but see Bednarik 1987-1988;
1991)? Lines that the claws
of live animals scratch probably look the same
as those that humans engrave with paws held in their hands. Can they be
distinguished? This question requires a special discussion because now the
human instruments are the same as the animals’:
While it may be logically possible that humans
so used paws as engraving tools, is it a reasonable assumption that they did?
Aslin (2003: 2) writes: ‘Early
people, in my view, would not have used animal
claws to make scratch marks. Although kangaroo and wombat claws are hard enough
to be used as rock engraving tools, there is no evidence of this found in the
How might humans extend the claws from the paw
of a dead animal (for example, might they pull
on the tendons)? For the claws to remain extended, need the paws be somehow set
rigidly (the tendons permanently extended, for instance)? The lines in a unit
may, if this were the case, stay equidistant from each other whereas lines that
the claws of a live animal produces may vary
in separation, if that digital flexibility exists.
Of assistance in distinguishing such tool use
from animal clawing, Aslin (2003: 2)
suggests: ‘For experimentation, a human hand holding an animal
claw in it can hit the wall harder than an animal.
This leaves a deeper groove with the impact also fracturing the surface. The
animal would not have the power to do this.’
It is one thing to argue against an animal
origin for line markings. To show clearly a human origin is another. The case
must have its own empirical support and must
answer potential objections.
For suggesting an animal
origin, the following physical dimensions, positions, and character of the
markings may prove important:
non-accessibility. Sites with markings that humans could not or
demonstrably did not make, but only animals
could – for
instance, sites that offered no human access – suggests important information
about animal markings versus human ones. The
data thus gained may prove useful for those sites where the origin remains in
question. As mentioned above, Bednarik has pursued this approach with apparent
success (Bednarik 1992; 1994a; 1994b).
marks. Prick marks at the beginning of a unit suggest that extended claws
hit the surface before scratching over it (note that humans using a severed animal
paw with its claws extended may produce the same prick marks). See Plate 5.
Plate 5. Probable cave bear scratches with prick
marks in association with an engraving probably of a bear. Rouffignac
An animal paw with claws extended and traveling
over a soft rock surface may scrape off or scoop out some of that surface. This
may especially show at the point of impact of the paw on the surface.
spacings. Writes Aslin (2003:
dig in with their claws, the marks becoming sharper, usually leave a fairly
uniform space between them, not coming together.’ If true, this may offer a
width. An animal origin might be suggested
if most of the units comprise two to five parallel lines, each usually deeper
at one end and becoming shallower and narrower until disappearing (Aslin, et
Units in pairs that mirror each other and have similar physical characteristics
may suggest two front paws both dragged over a surface at the same time. Such
pairs of units could converge toward each other at their base. The separation
between the two units must correspond with the potential paw separation of the
animal in question. (Note that severed paws
held in each hand of a human and used at the same time may produce this effect
Animal continuity. An argument from continuity
that parallels that for human origin might bolster an otherwise-established animal
origin for line markings. If some markings are of indisputable animal
origin, similar and close-by markings may also have an animal
origin. The animal-origin thesis may find
further corroboration if the immediate area of the lines contains evidence of
animal use, such as cave bear hibernation
pits. The argument from continuity places some of the onus on human-origin
proponents to find evidence for their case when they accept the animal
origin for the other markings at the same location, particularly when
additional evidence points to animal use of
The above may help
investigators determine whether a human or an animal created a set of lines. They could check the
points against the scratches in animal-only caves:
Do animal scratches contain internal striations?
Do any animal scratches include internal branches or cross-overs?
also wish to isolate other physical characteristics of the marks and then look
at their line-maker implications. Controlled experimentation with animals could prove invaluable as well. For
What would the result of frantic scratching
behavior look like?
Do climbing scratches differ from stretching
In general, do the scratches differ that a
species makes for different reasons?
Line markings that
people could make in laboratory situations may provide another avenue to
explore. For instance,
Did humans use the paws of dead animals to make lines and, if so, are there any
observables that distinguish them from lines that living animals make?
Koonalda Cave is a classic site for prehistoric ‘art’ in Australia. Since the discovery of the flutings and
abraded grooves within the cave, many hypotheses have tried to explain their
presence (Flood 1997: 47-50). The evidence for the human use of the
cave, including for those areas with markings – such
as Rockfall C in the Upper Chamber – remains persuasive.
denial of the human origin for all scratch-like markings on the boulders of
Rockfall C may not survive. Only further investigations, armed with a solid
theoretical base, will help.
40) assumes that animals made the scratch-looking lines unless
proven otherwise. He suggests, as a way to determine animal origin, the adoption of a three-dimensional
model whose coordinates are Species, Vehicle, and Motivation, so that knowing
two coordinates implies a small
range for the third. A broader approach may work better, one that looks for
tell-tale signs of animal and of human origin in the marks themselves,
and that uses a matrix (Bednarik’s triangulation plus location of the marks) to
see if it reinforces an animal origin and to help understand this behavior
if animals did make them. Creating such a matrix and
its resultant list of scratch characteristics remains to be attempted.
The lines and other evidence of human presence in totally
dark portions of caves like Koonalda, many difficult meters from an entrance,
can intrigue an investigator. Why did people go there? The line markings are
important to help understand the behavior of prehistoric humans. For the
flutings, grooves, and humanly made incisions, a question to consider concerns
the tradition and significance of the markings. Why did people make them? A
closer study of the marks and how they were made may lead to observations that
increase our understanding and, in turn, produce other questions for further
research (Sharpe and Lacombe 1999;
Sharpe, Lacombe, and Fawbert 1998;
In prep.). They also limit and may inspire hypotheses as to the original
meaning of the lines. Whatever approaches are used in such a meaning
investigation, they ought to move beyond pure speculation to proffering options
open to consideration and assessment against data. A satisfactory answer to the
meaning question remains a long way off and may never be attained.
The points about the lines in Rockfall C, the Upper Chamber
of Koonalda Cave, draw on Christine Whitehead’s analysis carried out in 1976 as part of an expedition under the
auspices of the National Geographic Society and the South
Thanks are also due to these two institutions, as well as to Sandor Gallus and
the Gurney family of Koonalda Station. The paper benefited from the comments of
Geoff Aslin, Robert Bednarik, Ben Gunn, W. D.
L. Ride, Helen Fawbert, and Leslie Van Gelder. Others who reacted to a draft of
the paper include Michael Archer, Alan Bartholomai, S. V. Dyck, and Aola
Richards. The figures are by Kevin Sharpe.
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