40,000-year-old star maps with sophisticated knowledge of modern astronomy

In 2008, a scientific study revealed an astonishing fact about the palaeolithic humans ― a number cave paintings, some of which were as old as 40,000 years, were actually products of complex astronomy that our primitive ancestors had acquired in the distant past.

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Some of the world’s oldest cave paintings have revealed how ancient people had relatively advanced knowledge of astronomy. Animal symbols represent star constellations in the night sky, and are used to mark dates and events such as comet strikes, analysis from the University of Edinburgh suggested. Credit: Alistair Coombs

The ancient paintings that were thought to be symbols of prehistoric animals are actually ancient star maps, according to what experts revealed in their fascinating discovery.

Early cave art shows that people had an advanced knowledge of the night sky in the last ice age. Intellectually, they were hardly different from us today. But these particular cave paintings revealed that humans had a sophisticated knowledge of stars and constellations more than 40,000 years ago.

It was during the Paleolithic Age, or also called the Old Stone Age ― a period in prehistory distinguished by the original development of stone tools that covers almost 99% of the period of human technological prehistory.

Ancient star maps

According to the breakthrough scientific study published by the University of Edinburgh, ancient humans controlled the passage of time by watching how stars change positions in the sky. The ancient works of art, found in various places in Europe, are not simply representations of wild animals, as previously thought.

Instead, animal symbols represent constellations of stars in the night sky. They are used to represent dates, marking events like asteroid collisions, eclipses, meteor showers, sunrise and sunset, solstices and equinoxes, lunar phases and etc.

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The Lascaux cave painting: 17,000 years ago, the Lascaux painters offered the world a peerless work of art. However, according to a new theory, some of the paintings could also be the representations of the constellations as seen in the sky by our ancestors from the Magdalenian era. Such a hypothesis, confirmed in many others Paleolithic Caves radically transforms our conception concerning prehistoric Rock Arts.

Scientists suggest that ancient peoples perfectly understood the effect caused by the gradual change in the Earth’s axis of rotation. The discovery of this phenomenon, called the precession of the equinoxes, was previously credited to the ancient Greeks.

One of the lead researchers, Dr Martin Sweatman, from the University of Edinburgh explained, “Early cave art shows that people had an advanced knowledge of the night sky in the last ice age. Intellectually, they were no different from us today. Tese findings support a theory of multiple impacts of comets throughout human development and are likely to revolutionize the way prehistoric populations are viewed.”

Sophisticated knowledge of constellations

Experts from Edinburgh and Kent universities studied a number of renowned arts in ancient caves located in Turkey, Spain, France and Germany. In their in-depth study, they had achieved the era of those rock arts by chemically dating the paints used by ancient humans.

Then, using computer software, the researchers predicted the position of the stars exactly when the paintings were made. This revealed that what may have appeared before, as abstract representations of animals, can be interpreted as constellations as they arose in the distant past.

Scientists concluded that these incredible cave paintings are a clear evidence that ancient humans practiced a sophisticated method of timing based on astronomical calculations. All of this, although the cave paintings were separated in time by tens of thousands of years.

“The oldest sculpture in the world, the Lion-Man from the Hohlenstein-Stadel cave, from 38,000 BC, was also considered compatible with this ancient timing system,” revealed experts in a statement from the University of Edinburgh.

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The Löwenmensch figurine or Lion-man of the Hohlenstein-Stadel is a prehistoric ivory sculpture discovered in the Hohlenstein-Stadel, a German cave in 1939. It’s nearly 40,000 years old.

The mysterious statuette is believed to commemorate the catastrophic impact of an asteroid that occurred around 11,000 years ago, initiating the so-called Younger Dryas Event, a period of sudden cooling of the climate worldwide.

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At around 12,000 years old, Göbekli Tepe in south-east Turkey has been billed as the world’s oldest temple. Various animal arts can also be seen in this prehistoric site, and the ‘Vulture Stone’ (down-right) is significantly one of them.

“The date carved in the ‘Vulture Stone’ of Göbekli Tepe is interpreted as being 10,950 BC, within 250 years,” explained the scientists in the study. “This date is written using the precession of the equinoxes, with animal symbols representing stellar constellations corresponding to this year’s four solstices and equinoxes.”


So, this great discovery reveals the truth that humans had a complex understanding of time and space thousands of years before the ancient Greeks, who are credited with the first studies of modern astronomy. Not only these, there are several other instances, such as the Sumerian Planisphere, the Nebra Sky Disk, Babylonian Clay Tablet etc., which imply more sophisticated knowledge of modern astronomy that our ancient ancestors once acquired.