The antler engraved with a stylized horse was discovered in France in the early 1800s, when very little was known about the early history of humans or that our species had been around for many hundreds of thousands of years, so the significance of the antler and its artwork was not realized at the time, museum scientists said.
With no known records of early human artwork finds before this time, the antler may have been the first example of Stone Age portable art ever discovered, a museum release said Thursday.
The antler was acquired by the museum in 1848 as part of a larger collection. It was put on display in 1882, but its scientific importance still was not recognized.
It eventually went back into storage and was unstudied and all but forgotten until an audit of possible worked bone and antler in the fossil collections began in 2010-2011.
Finally, more than 160 years after its discovery, its scientific importance was realized, museum experts said.
"The remarkable story of this forgotten specimen shows how careful study and detective work can belatedly give an important relic the significance it deserves," human origins expert Chris Stringer said.