Some of the world's oldest cave paintings have revealed how older people had comparatively advanced astronomy information.
Artwork, on sites throughout Europe, is not just pictures of wild animals, as previously considered. Instead, the animal symbols represent star constellations in the night sky, and it is used to represent dates and marking events such as comet strikes, analysis suggests.
They reveal that, perhaps as far back as 40,000 years ago, people keep time using information about how the situation of the stars changes slowly over thousands of years.
The perceptions suggest that ancient people understand the effect caused by the gradual change of the rotation axis of Earth. The discovery of this phenomenon, known as the precession of the equinoxes, was credited to the ancient Greeks from before.
Around the time of Neanderthal disappeared, and perhaps before the human being settled in Western Europe, people could define dates within 250 years, the study shows.
The perceptions show that astronomical insights of ancient people are much more than what is believed from. Their knowledge may have informed the auxiliary open seas, with implications for an understanding of prehistoric human migration.
Researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh and Kent studied details of Palaeolithic and Neolithic art that include animal symbols in sites in Turkey, Spain, France and Germany.
They find that all the sites used have the same method of keeping a date based on sophisticated astronomy, although the art has been segregated in time by tens of thousands of years.
Researchers explained earlier collections of stone carvings study in one of these sites – Gobekli Tepe in Turkey today – which is interpreted as a memorial to a destructive bombing strike around 11,000 BC. It was believed that this strike had started a small ice age called the Young Dryas period.
They also decode what is probably the best known ancient artwork – the Lascaux Check Scene in France. The work, which includes a dead man and a number of animals, commemorating another comet strikes around 15,200 BC, suggests researchers.
The team confirmed their findings by comparing the age of a number of examples of cave art – known as the dating date of the paint and the chest used – with old-star star positions predicted by sophisticated software.
It was also found that the world's oldest statue, Lion-Man of Hohlenstein-Stadel Cave, of 38,000 BC, complies with the ancient system of time keeping.
This study was published in Aberystwyth Journal Journal of History.
Dr Martin Sweatman, the School of Engineering of the University of Edinburgh, who led to the study, said: "Early cavern art shows that people have an up-to-date knowledge of night air in the last ice age. Intellectually, they were rarely different from us today.
"These findings support the theory of multiple comet effects over human development, and they probably revolve how prehistoric populations are seen."