One of Europe’s Oldest Artworks, a 38,000-Year-Old Rock Carving, Is Discovered in France

Anthropologists are taking a closer look at ancient Aurignacian culture.

Limestone slab engraved with image of an aurochs, or extinct wild cow, discovered at Abri Blanchard in 2012. Courtesy of Musée national de Préhistoire collections/photographer MNP - Ph. Jugie.

Anthropologists working at the Abri Blanchard dig site in France’s Vézère Valley have discovered a 38,000-year-old rock engraving, announced New York University. The ancient image is believed to be one of the earliest man-made artworks found in Europe.

“The discovery sheds new light on regional patterning of art and ornamentation across Europe at a time when the first modern humans to enter Europe dispersed westward and northward across the continent,” said NYU anthropologist and excavation leader Randall White in a statement.

The discovery was announced in the January 24 issue of the journal Quaternary International, in a paper detailing the anthropologist team’s findings in their study of the ancient Aurignacian culture, a group of humans who lived 43,000 to 33,000 years ago.

The engraving is a stone slab depicting the aurochs—a wild cow—and rows of dots. Originally excavated at the Abri Blanchard dig site early in the 20th century, it was uncovered once again in 2012, following the resumption of excavations the previous year. White believes that the stone and its Aurignacian art can help us to better understand the nature of humans living during this era.

Over the years, experts have unearthed hundreds of decorative artifacts at Abri Blanchard and its sister site, Abri Castanet, including pierced animal teeth, pierced shells, ivory and soapstone beads, engravings, and paintings on limestone slabs.

Other ancient artworks discovered in recent years include a hashtag-like mark thought to be the first known artwork by the Neanderthals and a group of 70 ancient cave paintings found deep in the Atxurra caves in northern Spain. In 2014, paintings at least 40,000 years old, believed to be the world’s oldest-known artwork, came to light on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

The new find does appear to surpass Europe’s previous oldest-known artwork, the 36,000-year-old cave paintings at France’s Grotte Chauvet, which received World Heritage Status by UNESCO in 2014.

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