By EDDIE WRENN
PUBLISHED: 14:01 EST, 14 May 2012 | UPDATED: 14:01 EST, 14 May 2012
Anthropologists working in the south of France believe they have discovered the oldest example of cave art on a 1.5 metric ton block limestone.
The carvings date back to 37,000 years ago in the areas of Abri Castanet and Abri Blanchard – both sites where some of the earliest examples of mankind living in the European continent have been discovered.
Those of a weak disposition look away now, as one painting, showing a circle with an attachment, is believed to depict a lady’s sexual organs.
Warning – Graphite content: This piece of art is believed to depict female sexual organs
Another piece of art apparently depicting the female form, found engraved in rock on the ceiling of a cave
The research, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows the artwork to be approximately 37,000 years old, and offers rich evidence of the role art played in the daily lives of Early Aurignacian humans – people who spread across Europe between 37,000 to 28,000 years.
Cave art dating back 30,000 years in the Chauvet Cave in the Ardeche region of South-east France
The research team, comprised of more than a dozen scientists from American and European universities and research institutions, has been excavating at the site of the discovery – Abri Castanet – for the past 15 years.
Abri Castanet and its sister site Abri Blanchard have long been recognised as being among the oldest sites in Eurasia bearing artifacts of human symbolism.
Hundreds of personal ornaments have been discovered, including pierced animal teeth, pierced shells, ivory and soapstone beads, engravings, and paintings on limestone slabs.
New York University anthropology professor Randall White, one of the study’s co-authors, said: ‘Early Aurignacian humans functioned, more or less, like humans today.
‘They had relatively complex social identities communicated through personal ornamentation, and they practiced sculpture and graphic arts.’
Aurignacian culture existed until approximately 28,000 years ago.
In 2007, the team discovered an engraved block of limestone in what had been a rock shelter occupied by a group of Aurignacian reindeer hunters.
Subsequent geological analysis revealed the ceiling had been about two meters above the floor on which the Aurignacians lived – within arms’ reach.
Another figure painted onto rock: Despite the ambiguity of the objects, their design shows that early humans had an appreciation for art
Anthropologists guess that these are meant to be figures painted on to the limestone
Using carbon dating, the researchers determined that both the engraved ceiling, which includes depictions of animals and geometric forms, and the other artifacts found on the living surface below were approximately 37,000 years old.
‘This art appears to be slightly older than the famous paintings from the Grotte Chauvet in southeastern France,’ explained White, referring to the cave paintings discovered in 1994.
‘But unlike the Chauvet paintings and engravings, which are deep underground and away from living areas, the engravings and paintings at Castanet are directly associated with everyday life, given their proximity to tools, fireplaces, bone and antler tool production, and ornament workshops.’