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Art that lives. Literally.
December 28, 2010 4:40 PM   Subscribe

40,000-year-old rock paintings are alive. "These organisms are alive and could have replenished themselves over endless millennia to explain the freshness of the paintings' appearance," Professor Pettigrew told BBC News.
posted by longsleeves (22 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Water your Chia-art everyday! And watch it grow!

Ch-ch-ch-ch-chia!
posted by yeloson at 4:44 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Amazing! I wonder if they could have imagined that their paintings would still be around 40 thousand years later.
posted by Freen at 4:57 PM on December 28, 2010


Wow. Very weird and cool.
posted by Artw at 5:37 PM on December 28, 2010


" 'living pigments' may explain why attempts to date some rock art has shown inconsistent results"

This is George Washington's axe. My grandfather replaced the handle and my father replaced the blade.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 5:39 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is really neat, but I don't understand - why don't the organisms spread outside the boundaries of the art?
posted by Evangeline at 5:55 PM on December 28, 2010


Even amoebae know you don't color outside the lines.
posted by DU at 6:34 PM on December 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


why don't the organisms spread outside the boundaries of the art?

From the source article in the journal Antiquity, linked in the BBC piece from the original post:

The black fungi probably belong to the Chaetothyriales, an extremely conservative group of rock-adapted fungi that replicate without hyphae by cannibalising their predecessors in situ (Gorbushina et al. 2005). Their suite of conservative traits could explain why the sharp contours of Bradshaw art have not been corrupted by fungi growing beyond the edges of the image.
posted by longsleeves at 6:37 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wormtail is alive!
posted by lazaruslong at 6:42 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


My guess: the paint supplies a required base element to the fungi that is not available on the rest of the rock.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:03 PM on December 28, 2010


You know, the last time someone found an ancient life form in a cave, it didn't end so well for him.
posted by orange swan at 7:04 PM on December 28, 2010


Also from the Antiquity article:

The possible mechanisms by which the micro-organisms are confined within the edges of the painting are testable, and include:
  1. The etched cavities and pores providing microenvironments will exactly follow the shape of the painting if the original paint contained silica-dissolving microbes or acid capable of dissolving the cement between the silica grains. (Some paintings were etched as much as 1mm below the level of surrounding rock).
  2. Rock-adapted fungi are extremely conservative and would remain at the same location, once inoculated by spores or cell bodies in the paint.
  3. There may have been nutrients within the original paint that kick-started a subsequently stable mutualism of fungi (water-providing) and Cyanobacteria (carbohydrate-providing).

posted by dirigibleman at 7:41 PM on December 28, 2010


He's at Bradshaw...He's at Bradshaw...
posted by maryr at 8:30 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Now that's what I call culture!
posted by voltairemodern at 8:41 PM on December 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


40,000 year-old art, still visible and vibrant right up til today, with the help of living organisms. I don't often use the word, since it's become all but meaningless through overuse, but that is truly... awesome.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:35 PM on December 28, 2010


Yah, this is too beautiful and fascinating and strange to make so many dumb jokes about!
posted by sunnichka at 10:45 PM on December 28, 2010


For some further info on the Bradshaws, nickyskye made a great FPP on them earlier this year. I wonder what this fungi does to Graham Walsh's theories?
posted by harriet vane at 12:14 AM on December 29, 2010


So we've found evidence of bioengineered art that even we don't fully understand, and we're assuming it was put up by cavemen, not some ancient and extinct hyperadvanced race? A race evidently so comfortable with genetic manipulation that they used it for doodles?

Sure, I guess it does it seem far-fetched that such a civilization so casual about bioengineering would probably never manipulate ape genes to self-awareness. Never mind. Crazy idea.
posted by LiteOpera at 8:41 AM on December 29, 2010


The scary part is when it peels itself off of the wall and starts chasing you.
posted by Artw at 9:02 AM on December 29, 2010


So we've found evidence of bioengineered art that even we don't fully understand, and we're assuming it was put up by cavemen, not some ancient and extinct hyperadvanced race? A race evidently so comfortable with genetic manipulation that they used it for doodles?

It's not necessary to understand the mechanism of how something works in order to use it. Perhaps the artists observed colored patches on rock of that stayed intensely colored despite sun and weathering, scraped some off and used it as paint. They may well have assumed they were stealing magic from the gods.
posted by longsleeves at 11:26 AM on December 29, 2010


*ahem*

Ch-ch-ch-ch-chiART!

Ch-ch-ch-ch-chiART!
posted by liza at 11:51 AM on December 29, 2010


It's not necessary to understand the mechanism of how something works in order to use it.

Just ask Wall Street!!
posted by Twang at 12:52 PM on December 29, 2010


They may well have assumed they were stealing magic from the gods.

And they were.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:02 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


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