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ancient art

Archaeologists discover what might be the oldest known image on Earth

The oldest images in the world might have been discovered in France — and they're made of "pixels."

Archaeologists have uncovered 16 stones in a prehistoric camp in France's Vézère Valley, where people belonging to the earliest modern human culture in Europe used to live, The Independent reports. The images on the stones illustrate mammoths and wild cows using a technique shared by computers and televisions, in which a picture is formed using an arrangements of tiny dots. The images from Vézère are estimated to be 38,000 years old.

"It's not so much the final effect that we found interesting, it's the conception of it — the use of individual points to form the body or the outline of a figure," explained New York University Professor Randall White to The Independent. "If you look carefully at the aurochs, there's really a significant control of the line."

The technique of creating an image from small dots would be used again thousands of years later by "pointillists" such as Vincent van Gogh and Georges Seurat. But the images on the prehistoric stones date back to a "very early [time] when people [were] really just beginning to grapple with the production of images," White said. "They have mastered some of the fundamental aspects of line and shape, but there's clearly a long way to go in terms of precise reproductions."

"It's almost digital in its nature," White said. "Why this fixation on dots? I'll admit it's a puzzle."