Fumane Cave Paintings
Oldest Prehistoric Art in Italy.

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Image of Weasel-shaped animal.
Fumane Cave (35,000 BCE).
This is the earliest art in Italy,
and the oldest figurative art
ever discovered.

Fumane Cave Paintings (c.35,000 BCE)


Oldest Art in Italy
Archeology of the Cave
The Cave Paintings
Related Articles

To see how the paintings at Fumane fit into the development of Stone Age culture, see: Prehistoric Art Timeline (from 2.5 million BCE).

For a review of cave painting in southern France and northern Spain, please see: Franco-Cantabrian Cave Art (40,000-10,000 BCE).

For another important site of cave painting, contemporaneous with Fumane, but in central Europe, see: Coliboaia Cave Art (30,000 BCE).

Aurignacian Art
(40,000-25,000 BCE)
Gravettian Art
(25,000-20,000 BCE)
Solutrean Art
(20,000-15,000 BCE)
Magdalenian Art
(15,000-10,000 BCE)

Oldest Art in Italy

An important source of prehistoric art created during the Upper Paleolithic, the Fumane Cave ("Grotta di Fumane") near the north-eastern city of Verona, is home to the oldest Stone Age art in Italy. In 1999, following a series of excavations, beginning in 1988, archeologists discovered a number of figurative cave paintings on fragments of rock which had broken off the roof of the underground chamber. Executed in red ochre, the cave painting includes images of animals as well as what appears to be a half-human, half-animal figure. They have been dated to as far back as 35,000 BCE, a date that places them in the same age category as the Abri Castanet engravings (c.35,000 BCE) and the abstract Altamira paintings (c.34,000 BCE). The only older example of Paleolithic art in Europe is the El Castillo cave paintings (39,000 BCE). However, the Fumane images are the oldest figurative cave art, being 1,600 years older than Sulawesi Cave Art and 5,000 years older than the Chauvet Cave paintings (c.30,000 BCE). Furthermore, being a residential cave with evidence of occupation during the Mousterian, Aurignacian and Gravettian cultures, Fumane was able to shed light on the respective contributions of Neanderthal and modern man to Stone Age art during the early Upper Paleolithic. According to Alberto Broglio, Professor of Palaeontology at the University of Ferrara, who coordinated the excavation, evidence obtained from the Fumane cave shows that there was a clean break between Neanderthal and modern humans, both in their culture and lifestyle. This corroborates recent DNA evidence that anatomically modern man was not related to Neanderthal man. For another important Paleolithic site in Italy, see the Addaura Cave engravings (11,000 BCE) on the outskirts of Palermo, in Sicily.

Note: For a comparison with contemporaneous cave painting from the continent of Africa, please see the pictures of animal figures on the Apollo 11 Cave Stones (c.25,500 BCE).

Archeology of the Cave

Located in the Lessini Hills some 9 miles northwest of Verona, the Fumane Cave was first discovered in 1964 by Giovanni Solinas. An immediate first examination was conducted by the Natural History Museum of Verona, but it wasn't until 1988 that a new series of investigations uncovered a sequence of human occupation spanning the Middle and Upper Paleolithic during the Wurmian interpleniglacial. An accumulation of about 33 feet of sediment has yielded thousands of flint tools, worked pebbles, ornaments and many other prehistoric artifacts, which chronicle the clean break between the cultural lifestyle of Homo sapiens neanderthalensis and that of Homo sapiens sapiens, as well as the sudden appearance of parietal art (paintings and engravings) around 35,000 BCE.

Ongoing excavations continue to be conducted annually by the University of Ferrara under the direction of the Superintendence for the Archeological Heritage.

The Cave Paintings

The Fumane rock art consists of pictures painted in red ochre on fragments of rock from the cave wall, which were found buried under later layers of debris. Measuring between one and two feet in length, they include an image of an animal with an elongated neck (perhaps a weasel - see the Magdalenian image in the Niaux Cave), a strange five-legged creature and an anthropomorphic figure of a man - thought to be a shaman - wearing a mask with horns. The figure's arms are spread, while the right hand clutches what may be a ritual object which hangs downwards. In addition, archeologists found several abstract signs (dots/spots, and crosshatch symbols) in red and yellow ochre. In all cases, the ochre paint contained hematite, titanium and aluminium - a combination of materials well-suited for colouring on rock. (For more, see: Prehistoric Colour Palette.) Unfortunately, most of the pictures are incomplete and difficult to interpret fully, since they continue beyond the break-point. In addition, the rock paintings were overlaid with calcite which preserved them but made them difficult to see. According to Dr Alessandra Astes, head of the Natural History Museum in Verona, scientists managed to date the paintings use carbon dating techniques and the archeological stratographic method.

Fumane's archeology and the date of its cave art is similar to that of Abri Castanet in France, whose prehistoric rock engravings (c.35,000 BCE) were found in 2007. The primitive style of the art in both caves is also similar: it was "everyday art" produced by artistic hunter-gatherers, rather than the more sophisticated art created by specialist painters, such as those at Chauvet. Finally the artworks at both Fumane and Castanet support the idea that modern man brought his artistic skill with him from Africa, rather than developing it upon his arrival in Europe - a viewpoint which is itself supported by the recent discoveries in South Africa of the Blombos Cave Engravings (c.70,000 BCE) and the Diepkloof Eggshell Engravings (c.60,000 BCE).

Related Articles

• For details of prehistoric hand paintings, see: Hand Stencils.
• For earlier cultural markings, see: La Ferrassie Cave Cupules (c.60,000 BCE)


• For more about Stone Age cave art in Italy, see: Homepage.

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