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38,000-year-old pointillism rock art found in France

In just the last decade, archaeologist Randall White and his colleagues have grown the inventory of known ancient art in southwestern France by 40 percent.

By
Brooks Hays
Scientists in France have discovered ancient pointillist engravings representing both a wild cow and a wooly mammoth. The engravings were made more than 35,000 years ago. Photo by R. Bourrillon
Scientists in France have discovered ancient pointillist engravings representing both a wild cow and a wooly mammoth. The engravings were made more than 35,000 years ago. Photo by R. Bourrillon

Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Newly discovered rock art in France suggests the origins pointillism, the painting technique made popular by Georges Seurat and Vincent Van Gogh, can be traced back more than 35,000 years to the Upper Paleolithic.

Most art historians date the birth of pointillist techniques to the 1880s, but 16 engraved limestone blocks in France's Vézère Valley suggest the technique was being used by early humans 38,000 years ago.

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"We're quite familiar with the techniques of these modern artists," lead researcher Randall White, an anthropologist at New York University, said in a news release. "But now we can confirm this form of image-making was already being practiced by Europe's earliest human culture, the Aurignacian."

The newly discovered artworks include a pointillist representation of a wooly mammoth. They were discovered at Abri Cellier, a site that has previously yielded ancient Aurignacian art.

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Prior to the latest discovery, White's team unearthed a pointillist limestone engraving representing an aurochs, or wild cow.

Researchers previously found a pointillist rhinoceros on the wall of the France's Grotte Chauvet caves France. The rhino was formed by dots painted onto the hand of an early human, which was then pressed against the rock.

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In just the last decade, White and his colleagues have grown the inventory of known ancient art in southwestern France by 40 percent.

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The newly unearthed limestone block engravings were described this week in the journal Quaternary International.

Both the wild cow and wooly mammoth are formed by patterned indentations in the limestone rock. The limestone slabs, now fragmented, once formed a rock overhang used by early humans as shelter.

"It's almost digital in its nature," White told The Independent. "Why this fixation on dots? I'll admit it's a puzzle. It's not exactly pointillism but the principle is there, the construction of a form out of pixels."

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