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Vulva images in France are among oldest cave art

Rock engravings and traces of painting discovered in southwest France are believed to be from at least 37,000 years ago, making them among the world's oldest cave art.
An image from a chunk of the collapased ceiling of a rock shelter in France shows an engraved figure that in prehistoric art commonly represents a vulva. Researchers think it's at least 37,000 years old. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)

Rock engravings and traces of painting discovered in France are believed to be from about 37,000 years ago, making them among the world's oldest such finds.

Some of the cave art depicts what appears to be female genitalia.

The discovery was made in 2007 and the findings published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. CBC's Bob McDonald spoke to the lead author of the study, New York University anthropology professor Randall White, on Quirks & Quarks. Click on the play button above to listen to the interview.

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Prof. Randall White is on Quirks & Quarks on May 19 at noon on CBC Radio One.

The cave decorations were found on a 1.5-tonne rock-shelter ceiling that had collapsed at the well-known archeological site of Abri Castanet in Dordogne, France. The ceiling collapsed 37,000 years ago, meaning the art dates to at least 4,000 years before the widely studied paintings in southern France's Chauvet Cave, which had been thought to be the oldest known cave paintings created by humans and were featured in Werner Herzog's critically acclaimed 2010 documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

"The 'vulvar' representations from southwestern France are as old or older than the very different wall images from Chauvet," the report says.

The images at Abri Castanet also include animals.