Rock-art experts mystified by 'Picasso' carvings

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The Independent Online

When it comes to comprehending the enigmatic meaning of rock carvings, the archaeologists of Newcastle upon Tyne take some beating.

When it comes to comprehending the enigmatic meaning of rock carvings, the archaeologists of Newcastle upon Tyne take some beating.

In the past few years they have cracked everything from Bronze Age etchings in a Northumberland field to South African cave drawings that had previously been dismissed as scribblings. But the rock art team declared itself bamboozled yesterday by the carvings of a face, heart and foot ­ some in the style of Picasso ­ found close to Northumberland's Scottish border.

The British Museum and English Heritage have been drafted in to the quest to explain the drawings, which the archaeologists believe may be 300 years old, but their experts are equally mystified.

The archaeologists, Aron Mazel and Stan Beckensall, who were alerted to the lichen-covered carvings on an isolated boulder by a farm worker, believe they are the first such designs to have been discovered in the UK.

"We have absolutely no idea what they are," says Dr Mazel. "They are nothing like anything we, or anybody else we have talked to, have seen before."

Northumberland's prolific cave artists had previously been known for basic cup and ring shapes, hacked into rock faces by early farmers, but the new carvings are far more sophisticated. Two found near prehistoric rock carvings close to Rothbury consist of a small heart shape and a stylised carving of a human face. Another, near Wark, is such an unusual combination of lines and circles that it is impossible to say what it depicts.

"We found the heart marking next to a quarried edge and [may be] the work of a lonely quarryman," Dr Mazel said. "The stylised face reminds me of works done by Picasso that were inspired by African totemic carvings, but an art historian may think otherwise."

Dr Mazel added: "It is likely that there are more unusual carvings out there. We have heard about a carving which resembles a Napoleonic soldier but we haven't managed to locate it yet."

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