Happy Winter Solistice!
My painting is a reconstruction of what a horse looked like during the time of the Ice Age based on cave paintings. Representations of horses and other animals were carved, painted and drawn by Upper Palaeolithic artists and grace the walls of several European caves. The most famous examples are found in Lascaux and Chauvet in France and Altimera in Spain.
Cave painting of a horse from Lascaux
This equine image from Lascaux (dating approximately 17,000 years ago) reveals features similar to the Jungarian horse or Przewalski’s horse, which is known as the takhi in Mongolia. It is dun coloured with a big white belly and has a dark brown mane. Other cave paintings also feature horses in their winter coats with long hair around the jaw and hoofs. The frozen body of a Pleistocene stallion known as the Selerikan horse was found in Siberian permafrost in 1968 and its preserved hide confirms the accuracy of the Upper Palaeolithic paintings.
Horse bones have been found in Britain at sites such as the Pin Hole Cave, Creswell Crags, Derbyshire (dating around 50,000 to 45,000 BCE) and Kent’s Cavern, Devon. So far there is not much evidence with regards to art from the Upper Palaeolithic in the UK, let alone equine depictions. A bone with an engraving of a horse’s head, however, was found in Robin Hood Cave in the Creswell Crags. It was originally known as the ‘Ochre Horse’ (dating approx. 13,000 to 11,000 years old) and now resides in the British Museum collections. At the moment, the Ochre Horse is the only piece of Upper Palaeolithic portable art with an animal depiction found in Britain.
The dodo (Raphus cucullatus) has been the object of curiosity and ridicule ever since its discovery in Mauritius by Europeans around the end of the 16th century. Regretfully, it was brought to extinction in the late 17th century by island settlers, but lived on through establishing its own particular mythical status.
It was during September 1865 that the first dodo fossilised bones were discovered in the Mare aux Songes marsh, Mauritius. Not only was this important to the advancement of Victorian natural history, but the discoverer realised it would also be equally important in advancing his finances. The abundance of bird skeletons found was downplayed as it would help keep the market price inflated when sold to collectors and museum collections.
The poor dodo not only became an emblem of the carelessness that leads to the extinction of a living species, but also a powerful symbol fuelling our collective imaginations ever since. Perhaps, the most celebrated dodo in fiction comes from the pages of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, which was wonderfully illustrated by John Tenniel.
The dodo continues to be drawn upon in literary works up to the present day. It is one of many rare and strange creatures encountered in Veronica Cossanteli’s delightful children’s novel, The Extincts (Extincts webpage at The Chicken House). I created a black and white dodo colouring sheet for Veronica a while ago, but couldn’t resist colouring it up myself (as seen above).
Recommended further reading on the controversy of the discovery of dodo fossils in the 19th century:
J.P. Hume, A.S. Cheke and A. McOran-Campbell 2009. How Owen ‘stole’ the Dodo: Academic rivalry and disputed rights to a newly-discovered subfossil deposit in nineteenth century Mauritius. Historical Biology, vol. 21, Nos. 1–2, pp. 33–49. Pdf version