When the topic of newly discovered ancient drawings is discussed, most of us automatically assume that they were found on cave walls, but not this time. Mammoth tusks were discovered in the lower Tom River in the western part of Siberia and contained some very interesting etches.
Although the tusks were found in 1988 during a construction project, they were only recently analyzed by experts. A team of researchers from the Khakassian Research Institute for Language, Literature and History in Russia analyzed the 13,000-year-old tusk and found drawings of fighting camels. In fact, these etches are the earliest ever drawings of camels found in Asia. “The comparative analysis of the stylistic features of the camel figures shows that they correspond to the age of the tusk itself, making them, at present, the oldest camel images in Asia,” the authors of the study wrote, adding, “The discovery of the engravings in this region is consistent with the theory of mobile population groups moving to western Siberia in the Late Upper Paleolithic.”
“Similar images of camels facing each other are quite common in the art of different cultures of the Bronze Age, Early Iron Age and Medieval period in southern Siberia and Central Asia.”
Also found on the five-foot-long tusk was another drawing that seemed to depict a human wearing a camel disguise. This interesting figure may represent how ancient hunters disguised themselves as camels in order to get close to the animals for killing purposes. While there is evidence of ancient humans hunting mammoths, this new analysis indicates that they also hunted camels.
The fact that these people were able to add drawings to a tusk is a hard project in itself. “The engravings on the tusk from the Tom River have special features, which make them difficult to document,” explained Yury Esin who is one of the authors of the study, adding, “They have very thin and shallow lines, making them barely visible and tedious to trace and the engravings are on the surface of a round, long, curved and heavy object.”
The researchers took several close-up photos of the images in order to find out how they were etched into the tusk and their results were very interesting. “The engravings were created with a very sharp cutting tool, which, depending on the amount of pressure applied, could produce a line about 0.1–0.15 mm thin, or even less,” Esin explained, adding, “All camels are depicted with only two legs. The lower ends of the foot contours, in most cases, are not connected.”
The authors went on to say, “The camels have patches of thick fur sticking out from the upper parts of their forelegs, bellies, under their necks, at the base of the humps (between the front hump and the neck, the back hump and the croup) and on their foreheads.” “All in all, the figures of the animals are quite realistic and demonstrate a good knowledge of the subject.” Additionally, the drawings showed what appeared to be arrows and wounds on the animals’ bodies as well as signs of them bleeding.
The drawings on the tusk revealed that engraving was an important part of the human culture during the Upper Paleolithic period. “In this case, stylistic techniques could be consolidated and passed down through generations, as a particular part of labor skills,” Esin concluded. Pictures of the tusk can be seen here.
Another interesting point is that the tusk drawings were very similar to pictures found in caves from around the same time period with the oldest known cave painting dating back to approximately 19,000 years ago which was found in the Kapova cave located in the Ural mountains.