Below is a drawing of a limestone block that was used to cover a child’s grave. The engraving of what are known as cupules is thought to be at least 40,000 years old.
Measured along the diagonal, the stone block has a maximum length of around 68cm, with a maximum width of around 50cm. It is just a tad too big to carry in a pocket. So what does the engraving depict, and why?
A cupule could be an archaic form of the character dīng 丁, meaning population, which can be used to indicate centres of population on a map. My hypothesis is therefore that the engraving on the limestone block is a map.
My understanding is that the child’s skull was separated from the body and buried 1.25 metres away. The limestone block was placed face down over the body with a roughly east west orientation. If the child ‘wakes up’, and goes to retrieve his body, he turns over the stone and sees the map from the direction shown in the diagram. Unfortunately, I don’t have any information regarding the precise positions of the body, skull and stone block. Nonetheless, if we take a Chinese approach to the map, the top of the map would represent south.
The child’s contemporaries lived in caves and rock shelters along the Vézère Valley, so I have turned the map on the left around to put north at the top.
On the map below I have tried to match the dots against known archaeological sites. Incidentally, there are around 150 such sites in the Vézère Valley.
It is possible that the map should start at Le Bugue, which is located at the bend in the Vézère River immediately below La Ferrassie. However, what struck me was the similarity between the pattern on the limestone block and the pattern on the Megalithic Portal’s map starting at Les Eyzies¹. After 40,000 years it may of course, be a mere coincidence.
If the map does depict places on the stretch of river between Les Eyzies and Le Moustier, it is worth noting that most of these are classed as shelters rather than caves. They would have been good places to stay if you were away from home on a hunting or fishing trip. Deep caves might harbour bears, with the danger that rather than settling down to dinner, you might become dinner. It is also possible that other people lived in the dwellings marked.
I have designated the large dot as the ‘You are here’ point. It is possible that it might indicate the site of La Micoque, but La Micoque is dated to much earlier. I am therefore guessing that the hunting/fishing party from La Ferrassie would have approached the Vézère via the Manaurie Valley. Hence ‘work’ commenced at ‘You are here’. It would have been dangerous work, and I am therefore also guessing that the trip would have been planned in advance. Those remaining in La Ferrassie, and those in the hunting/fishing party would know the planned routes, and the evening rendez-vous points.
Was the map perhaps intended for the deceased child’s future reference? It may have been newly created, or it could have been an old map.
It is important to note that the map does not appear to be to scale. However, for the purpose of planning a hunting/fishing trip, I would argue that it didn’t need to be so precise.
Also, I matched dots with places, according to where they fitted in the pattern. It would be interesting to see if a professional cartographer, with a detailed knowledge of the area arrived at a similar conclusion.
Mousterian cupules on a limestone slab covering Neanderthal juvenile burial, La Ferrassie, France.: AURA, 2001: Cupules - the oldest surviving rock art, Page 1, Figure 5: Cognitive Archaeology, Australian Rock Art Research Association, Inc.: http://home.vicnet.net.au/~auranet/cognit/shared_files/ cupules.pdf: Accessed: 16 December, 2013
1. Abri de la Ferrassie, Map of Nearby Sites, Scale 2 km/1 mi: The Megalithic Portal: http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?long=0.938056&lat=44.951944: Accessed: 16 December, 2013