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10 February 2017
38,000 year old rock art discovered in France

In the summer of 2012, a group of archaeologists discovered what could be one of the oldest examples of art in Europe when they turned over a broken block of limestone on the floor of a rock shelter in southwestern France.
     The slab comes from a partially collapsed rock shelter called Abri Blanchard. It reveals the image of an aurochs and dozens of small dots, and was decorated by Aurignacians - the first Homo sapiens to arrive in Europe. The engraving is about 38,000 years old.
     The 20 metre long shelter is near the small town of Sergeac, about 500 kilometres south-southwest of Paris, in a region famous for some of Europe's oldest examples of cave art. Several other carved slabs were discovered at Abri Blanchard a century ago.
     New York University anthropologist Randall White, a co-author of the study who led recent excavations at the site, says the discovery sheds light on regional patterning of art and ornamentation at a time when humans were just starting to spread across the continent.
     Many early artistic representations from this region have been interpreted as vulvas, but the artists at Abri Blanchard chose an array of artistic subjects, from horses and cats to geometric designs.
     In addition to the aurochs carving, the researchers found hundreds of stone tools and tool fragments, as well as animal bones, mostly from reindeer. They also found an ivory bead and a pierced fox tooth.
     Aurignacian images of aurochs have been found at other sites, such as Chauvet Cave, about 350 kilometres east-southeast of Abri Blanchard. Aligned dots have also been seen before on Aurignacian objects such as mammoth-tooth plaques and ivory pendants, but researchers describe the combination of this design with an animal figure as "exceptional".
     The discovery of fits into the patterns researchers usually see in the earliest European art: broad shared features, with some regional quirks.
     White says: "This pattern fits well with social geography models that see art and personal ornamentation as markers of social identity at regional, group and individual levels."

Edited from LiveScience (30 January 2017)

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