Oldest cave paintings in Czech Republic discovered at Catherine Cave near Brno

Photo: Petr Zajíček

Archaeologists have discovered the oldest paintings on Czech territory. They seem to have been made using charcoal more than 6,000 years ago in a Moravian cave. A common place for scribbling messages, they were undetected until now, hidden among many other drawings made in latter periods.

Photo: Petr Zajíček
The Catherine Cave lies just a few kilometres from the Moravian capital of Brno. It has been a popular place to visit for thousands of years, and its walls are littered by many scribbled pictures and messages, from various ages.

It is for this reason that its most ancient message may have been overlooked, says speleologist Petr Zajíček, who made the discovery with his colleague Martin Golec, an archaeologist from the Palacký University in Olomouc.

It all started when Dr. Golec got inkling that the Catherine Cave may be hiding something very old, says Mr. Zajíček.

“Dr. Golec had a feeling there could be something there. He is also a member of a group researching the nearby Býčí Skála cave, where one pre-historic painting was already found. He thought that since this cave was also settled in the pre-historic era, there was a chance one could find something here. So I let him in, we studied the walls and found them. They are actually quite visible, but no one attributed much importance to them before.”

More abstract scribbles than paintings, the drawings were likely made with pieces of charcoal from the cave dwellers’ fireplace, the research team believes.

Remains and artefacts have proven that the Catherine Cave was inhabited by humans during the Neolithic Era some 6,200 years ago. The carbon dating test results support the hypothesis that the drawings come from this period.

Mr. Zajíček and the research team believe that the drawings were made as the humans were exploring the depths of the cave.

“We presume that the people who were using the massive portal and the cave behind it as a settlement where they lived explored the further passages and that the reflecting light from their torches onto the rocks may have evoked images in their mind, such as those of a woman’s womb, or various types of animals.

Photo: Petr Zajíček
“Dr. Golec believes that as a consequence they then marked these places. It is hard for us to deduce what these could mean, but it seems it may also have had a ritual motive.”

The area of Moravia seems to have been a popular area for settlement among hunter-gatherers during the Stone Age, as discoveries from other caves have shown. Remains of even older human settlements, the earliest to be found in Central Europe, have been discovered in the Mladečské caves, near Olomouc. However, no paintings have yet been found there, says Mr. Zajíček.

Although the oldest paintings yet discovered in Czech lands, the Catherine Cave drawings are still far younger than the oldest cave paintings ever found, which lie in the Lascaux cave in France and are believed to have been made 17,000 years ago.

Still, the discovery is a major one in the regional context, and preparations are underway for making the drawings available to view by visitors of the cave complex.

“We are thinking about how to present them to visitors of the cave, who pass on the sightseeing route. At the very least, we want to make high quality photograph copies accompanied by tables in Czech and English, available for people to look at on the route.”