Archaeologists at the University of York have undertaken pioneering scans of the highest prehistoric rock art paintings of animals in Europe.
Studying the rock paintings of Abri Faravel, a rock shelter in the Southern French Alps 2,133m above sea level, archaeologists used car batteries to power laser and white-light scanners in a logistically complex operation.
Producing virtual models of the archaeological landscape, researchers have now published the scans in Internet Archaeology — an online, open-access journal.
Abri Faravel was discovered fortuitously in 2010. The rock shelter has seen phases of human activity from the Mesolithic to the medieval period, with its prehistoric rock paintings known to be the highest painted representations of animals (quadrupeds) in Europe.
Dr Kevin Walsh, Senior Lecturer in York’s Department of Archaeology and project lead, said: “After years of research in this valley, the day we discovered these paintings was undeniably the highlight of the research programme.
“Whilst we thought that we might discover engravings, such as in the Vallée des Merveilles to the south-east, we never expected to find prehistoric paintings in this exposed area that affords so few natural shelters.
“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. The scanning was logistically complex as our only source of electricity was car batteries, which, along with all of the scanning equipment, had to be carried up to the site.
“This is the only example of virtual models, including a scan of the art, done at high altitude in the Alps and probably the highest virtual model of an archaeological landscape in Europe.”