Anthropologists say a 1.6-ton block of engraved limestone found in southern France is the earliest evidence of wall art, dating to 37,000 years ago.
U.S and European researchers have been excavating at Abri Castanet, the site of the discovery, for the past 15 years, calling it one of the oldest sites in Eurasia bearing artifacts of human symbolism.
The site has yielded pierced animal teeth, pierced shells, ivory and soapstone beads, engravings, and paintings on limestone slabs of the Aurignacian culture of the Upper Palaeolithic era, which was located in Europe and southwest Asia.
"Early Aurignacian humans functioned, more or less, like humans today," said New York University anthropology Professor Randall White, one of the study's co-authors.
"They had relatively complex social identities communicated through personal ornamentation, and they practiced sculpture and graphic arts," he said in an NYU release Tuesday.
An engraved block of limestone in what had been a rock shelter occupied by a group of Aurignacian reindeer hunters includes depictions of animals and geometric forms, researchers said.
"This art appears to be slightly older than the famous paintings from the Grotte Chauvet in southeastern France," White said, referring to the cave paintings discovered in 1994.