A New Study On Prehistoric Cave Art Suggests Humans Understood Astronomy 40,000 Years Ago

New research demonstrates that prehistoric humans understood astronomy long before the ancient Greeks, as evidenced by cave art found in France, Germany, Spain and Turkey.

Prehistoric drawings in Magura Cave.
Mono Collective / Shutterstock

New research demonstrates that prehistoric humans understood astronomy long before the ancient Greeks, as evidenced by cave art found in France, Germany, Spain and Turkey.

Scientists from the universities of Edinburgh and Kent have just published an exciting new study which suggests that prehistoric people were well-versed in the art of astronomy 40,000 years ago, as evidenced by both Palaeolithic and Neolithic cave art that was analyzed and studied in France, Germany, Spain and Turkey.

As Phys.org reports, lead author of the new study — Dr. Martin Sweatman, from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Engineering — has stated that through his team’s research into prehistoric cave art, it does indeed appear that early humans drew depictions of the astronomical events that they were witnessing, forever preserving them within the confines of caves scattered around the world.

“Early cave art shows that people had advanced knowledge of the night sky within the last ice age. Intellectually, they were hardly any different to us today. These findings support a theory of multiple comet impacts over the course of human development, and will probably revolutionize how prehistoric populations are seen.”

Incredibly, researchers involved with this new study discovered that 40,000 years ago, humans used extremely complex date-keeping methods based upon astronomy, with all prehistoric caves that were surveyed having used exactly the same methods.

And while the ancient Greeks may have been given the credit for first understanding the precession of the equinoxes, it would appear from the careful study of prehistoric cave art that earlier humans — before the ancient Greeks — were already well aware of the gradual shift of the Earth’s rotational axis.

Scientists also delved deeply into what is perhaps the most well-known piece of cave art in the world, the Lascaux Shaft Scene in France. In this stunning piece of art, depictions of a dying man have been painted, with many animals scattered around the death scene. Now, researchers believe that this piece of prehistoric cave art may actually be a representation of a deadly comet that would have struck Earth around 15,200 BCE.

To verify that ancient people were in touch with astronomy 40,000 years ago, researchers chemically dated the painting materials used in different caves. They then compared these paintings with computer programs that showed the relative positions of stars during the times that the paintings in the caves were undertaken.

Of course, another quite famous piece of art — and also the oldest sculpture in the world — attests to the fact that ancient man understood the zodiac symbol theory. The Lion Man, which was discovered in the Hohlenstein-Stadel Cave in Germany, is very close to 40,000 years old. The sculpture shows that prehistoric humans were capable of engaging in crude astronomy.

The new study, one which suggests that the astronomical knowledge of early humans was used to create prehistoric cave art, has been published in the Athens Journal of History.