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Oldest wall painting said to be found

Oct. 11, 2007
Special to World Science

Ar­chae­o­lo­gists have found an 11,000-year-old wall paint­ing un­der­ground in north­ern Syr­ia that they call the world’s old­est, the Reu­ters news agen­cy has reported.

The two square-meter (square yard) paint­ing is red, black and white. It was found at Djade al-Mug­hara, a Ne­o­lith­ic set­tle­ment of on the Eu­phra­tes north­east of Alep­po, team lead­er Er­ic Co­queu­gniot told Reu­ters.

A paint­ing un­cov­ered at Dja­de al-Mug­hara Neo­lithic site, north­east of the Syr­ian city of Alep­po, in this Sep­tem­ber hand­out pho­to. The paint­ing was dis­cov­ered by a team of French arch­aeo­lo­gists.


“It looks like a mod­ernist paint­ing,” he told the agen­cy. “Some of those who saw it have lik­ened it to work by [mod­ern­ist art­ist Paul] Klee. Through car­bon dat­ing we es­tab­lished it is from around 9,000 B.C.” He added that another paint­ing was found next to it, but isn’t yet fully excavated. Co­queu­gniot works at France’s Na­t­ional Cen­tre for Sci­en­tif­ic Re­search.

Rect­an­gles dom­i­nate the mural, which adorned an ado­be cir­cu­lar wall of a large, wood­en-roofed house, ac­cord­ing to Reu­ters. The site has been ex­ca­vat­ed since the early 1990s. The paint­ing will be moved to Alep­po’s mu­se­um next year, Co­queu­gniot told the agen­cy. Its red came from burnt hem­a­tite rock, crushed lime­stone formed the white and char­coal pro­vid­ed the black. 

The world’s old­est paint­ing on a built wall was found in Tur­key but was dat­ed 1,500 years af­ter the one at Djade al-Mug­hara, ac­cord­ing to Sci­ence mag­a­zine.

The site’s inhabitants lived off hunt­ing and wild plants, Co­queu­gniot told Reu­ters. “There was a pur­pose in hav­ing the paint­ing in what looked like a com­mu­nal house, but we don’t know it. The vil­lage was lat­er aban­doned and the house stuffed with mud,” he added. “This site is one of sev­er­al Ne­o­lith­ic vil­lages in mod­ern day Syr­ia and south­ern Tur­key. They seem to have com­mu­ni­cated with each oth­er and had peace­ful ex­changes.”

Mustafa Ali, a lead­ing Syr­i­an art­ist, told Reuters that si­m­i­lar ge­o­met­ric de­signs to those in the Djade al-Mug­hara paint­ing found their way in­to art through­out the Le­vant and Per­sia, and even appear in car­pets and rugs. Syr­ia was at the cross­roads of the an­cient world and has thou­sands of mostly un­ex­ca­vat­ed ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites.


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French archaeologists have found an 11,000-year-old wall painting underground in northern Syria that they believe is the world’s oldest.