Egypt's Oldest Known Art Identified, Is 15,000 Years Old

Dan Morrison in Cairo, Egypt
for National Geographic News
July 11, 2007

Rock face drawings and etchings recently rediscovered in southern Egypt are similar in age and style to the iconic Stone Age cave paintings in Lascaux, France, and Altamira, Spain, archaeologists say.

"It is not at all an exaggeration to call it 'Lascaux on the Nile,'" said expedition leader Dirk Huyge, curator of the Egyptian Collection at the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels, Belgium.

"The style is riveting," added Salima Ikram of the American University in Cairo, who was part of Huyge's team.

The art is "unlike anything seen elsewhere in Egypt," she said.

The engravings—estimated to be about 15,000 years old—were chiseled into several sandstone cliff faces at the village of Qurta, about 400 miles (640 kilometers) south of Cairo (Egypt map).

Of the more than 160 figures found so far, most depict wild bulls. The biggest is nearly six feet (two meters) wide.

The drawings "push Egyptian art, religion, and culture back to a much earlier time," Ikram said.

The team's findings will be published in the September issue of the British quarterly journal Antiquity.

Before Its Time

The Qurta art has now twice been uncovered by modern researchers.

Some of the engravings were first found in 1962 by a group from the University of Toronto, Canada.

The leader of that expedition, Philip Smith, made the then novel suggestion that the figures were from the Paleolithic age—the Stone Age period from about 2.5 million years ago to about 10,000 years ago—in a 1964 article in Archaeology magazine.

Continued on Next Page >>


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