Some of the oldest cave paintings in the world have revealed that ancient people had a relatively advanced knowledge of astronomy.
Artworks in places across Europe are not simply representations of wild animals, as previously thought. Instead, animal symbols are star constellations in the night sky and are used to represent data and mark events such as comet strikes, suggests analyzes.
They show that, perhaps 40,000 years ago, people have been watching the time by knowing how the position of the stars has been changing slowly over thousands of years.
The findings suggest that old people understood an effect caused by the gradual passage of Earth's axis of rotation. The discovery of this phenomenon, called precession of equinoxes, was created earlier in ancient Greeks.
Around the time the Neanderthals disappeared and probably before mankind settled in Western Europe, people could define dates up to 250 years, the study shows.
The findings indicate that astronomical views of old people were much higher than previously thought. Their knowledge would have helped navigate offshore, with implications for understanding human prehistoric migration.
Researchers from the universities of Edinburgh and Kent studied the paleolithic and neolithic art with animal symbols in places in Turkey, Spain, France and Germany.
They found that all locations use the same method of preserving data on the basis of sophisticated astronomy, even though art has been separated for tens of thousands of years.
Researchers have clarified previous findings from a study of stone sculptures on one of these sites – Gobekli Tepe in modern Turkey – which is interpreted as a memorial of a devastating comet strike around 11000 BC This strike was thought to have initiated a mini-age ice, known as the younger age.
They also decoded what is probably the most famous work of ancient art – the Lascaux Shaft scene in France. The work, which presents a dying man and more animals, can commemorate another comet strike around 15200 BC, suggests the researchers.
The team confirmed their findings by comparing the age of numerous examples of cave art – known from chemical dies dated to the dyes used – with ancient star positions as predicted by sophisticated software.
The oldest sculpture in the world, the Hohlenstein-Stadel cave lion, at 38,000 BC, has also been found to conform to this old time-keeping system.
This study was published in Athens History of Athens.
Dr. Martin Sweatman of the Edinburgh University School of Engineering, who led the study, said: "The early art of caves shows that people had advanced knowledge of the night sky in the last ice age.
These findings support a theory of multiple impacts of the comet on human development and will probably revolutionize how prehistoric populations are seen. "