Rock art on a slate rock in the Hunsrück: three horses and an undefined animal
Photo: Thomas Frey / dpa
Years ago a hiker discovered puzzling rock carvings in the Hunsrück.
But because he did not attach great importance to the somewhat childlike lines in a piece of slate, he initially kept the find to himself.
Only after a few years did it dawn on him that the three engraved horses and one other unrecognizable animal might be of interest to archaeologists.
And indeed, after an intensive examination of the find, antiquarians believed it was a sensation.
The rock art from the vicinity of Gondershausen could be the oldest in Germany, the state archaeologist of Rhineland-Palatinate and other experts were certain.
The animals, which are between 25 and 50 centimeters tall, date from the Paleolithic and are at least 20,000 years old, it was said a few years ago.
Such rock art is mainly known from southern France or Spain.
But until now it was not known that such images had survived the Ice Age so far north.
The researchers declared the exception in the Hunsrück with a stroke of luck: The worked rock would have been protected in a loess blanket for several thousand years.
The experts made the dating based on stylistic features, because scientific methods such as the so-called C14 analysis will not get you any further with the stone.
Typical of the Paleolithic are a twisted front hoof or the way of depicting two horses one behind the other.
Relative comparisons with the weathering traces of other historical rock carvings in the Hunsrück also indicated a great age.
But now there are doubts about the age of the find.
The deputy head of the Archaeological Research Center and Museum for Human Behavioral Evolution in Monrepos in Neuwied, Olaf Jöris, says that rock art is old - but by no means Paleolithic.
Monrepos, part of the Mainz Roman-Germanic Central Museum, took a close look at them.
Jöris says nothing indicated an age of 25,000 years.
There are no overlapping lines that indicate production from the Paleolithic.
Above all, you can watch how quickly slate weathered.
Rainwater can penetrate into slate layers and cause the rock to burst when it is below zero.
No evidence of an earlier protective layer of loess was found.
Some other researchers argue similarly.
Jöris at least thinks it is possible that the horse depiction could be around two millennia old: The Romans mined slate here at that time.
The archaeologists also found traces of the occupiers on site.
"We found some Roman sandal nails," he says.
"The soap bubble has burst"
Perhaps a quarry worker at the time designed the animal picture.
Perhaps it was not until much later that a local resident was inspired by the Stone Age cave painting of Altamira in Spain, which was discovered in the 19th century.
The time span of the conjectures shows how little one can ultimately say about the dating.
In any case, some people in the region no longer have any illusions that the find is a sensation: "The soap bubble has burst," says Gondersheim's local mayor Edgar Pinger.
In the Hunsrück it was once hoped that the find would become a tourist magnet.
The oldest rock and stone carvings in Germany include, for example, a megalithic complex in Hesse, which dates from the 4th to 3rd millennium BC.
BC or a grave slab with incisions from the Neolithic, which was found in Saxony-Anhalt.
joe / dpa