But he abandoned the hypothesis in later years.
"The Paleolithic experts told them, It's absolutely crazy—Europe is the cradle of art," Huyge, the leader of the new expedition, said. "And they backed off the idea.
"They must have accepted the fact that that nobody wanted to believe them, but they were right."
Discoveries of Paleolithic art in southern Africa and Australia since then have paved the way for the scientific community to accept what Smith first diffidently suggested, Huyge said.
Neither Smith, who has retired, nor his assistant on that expedition, Morgan Tamplin, now a professor emeritus at Trent University in Canada, could be reached for comment.
Huyge's March 2007 expedition strengthened the findings that Smith had discarded. The team found several additional panels of artwork over a 1-mile-long (1.66-kilometer-long) stretch of 230-foot-tall (70-meter-tall) sandstone cliffs.
There is "little doubt" the engravings are 15,000-years-old, Huyge said. They depict a now extinct species of wild cow whose horns have been recovered from Paleolithic settlements nearby.
The drawings would be examined for lichens and organic grime called "varnish rind" that could be carbon dated or subjected to another process known as uranium series dating, Huyge added. Because the rocks are inorganic, they cannot be dated directly using these methods.
In the meantime, the finding has raised a big question: How were people in Western Europe and southern Egypt producing almost identical artwork at the same time?
While the caves at Lascaux are best known for their painted images of bulls and cows, that artwork is actually outnumbered by stone engravings. And the Lascaux engravings are virtually identical to those in Qurta, Huyge pointed out.
"I'm not suggesting that the art in the caves of Lascaux was made by Egyptians or that [European] people were in Egypt," he said.
"The art is so similar that it reflects a similar mentality, a similar stage of development," he added. "When people are confronted with similar conditions, this will automatically lead to a similar kind of thinking, a similar creativity."
Now the archaeologists are on the hunt for additional—and potentially older—artwork.
"The rock art must be part of an evolution," Huyge said. "There must be older art in Egypt, if we can find it. I think open-air sites like Qurta will be found all over North Africa."
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