A recent archaeological expedition in France’s Vézère Valley resulted in the discovery of a 38,000-year-old slab of limestone engraved with a set of strange and unexplained symbols. The particular region of France in which the slab was found is rife with cave paintings and other examples of Paleolithic art, but many have been destroyed by wars or some of the rather unscientific excavation methods of yesteryear. The discovery of this nearly intact slab is a rare treat for archaeologists, who now have a fresh set of evidence linking some of the mysteries of Paleolithic Europe.
The limestone slab appears to depict an aurochs, or wild cow – a typical symbol found on much Paleolithic rock art. However, this particular aurochs is dotted with a set of strange, punctuation-mark-like symbols that bear a striking resemblance to other sets of symbols found in Paleolithic art throughout Europe. A full report of the researchers’ findings has been published in the paleoarchaeology journal Quaternary International.
NYU anthropologist Randall White, who led the excavation in France, claims that the resemblance of these disparate sets of similar dots seen in rock art throughout Europe implies the existence of a type of rudimentary written communication during the first phases of human migration into Europe, long before the advent of written languages:
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. 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.
Evidence of a Paleolithic European culture known as the Aurignacian culture continues to be discovered. Archaeologists believe this culture originated roughly 40,000 years ago when humans in Europe began fashioning tools and creating rock and cave art. Aurignacian art commonly depicts now-extinct animals and even some images researchers believe could display some of the earliest religious thinking on Earth.