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We are among the rare few who have been allowed to make the same journey the ancient artists did.The age of these drawings makes youngsters of Egypt’s storied pyramids, yet every charcoal stroke, every splash of ocher looks as fresh as yesterday. One moment you are anchored in the present, observing coolly.

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Some animals are solitary, even hidden, but most congregate in great mosaics like the one I am looking at now, in the deepest part of the cave.

Nowhere has a tradition been found to spread across space and through time, gathering richness and diversity, until just before 40,000 years ago, when art began to appear more commonly across Africa, Eurasia, and Australasia.

As far east as the Indonesian island of Sulawesi (Celebes), stenciled handprints—once thought of as an invention of the European Upper Paleolithic—were recently shown to be almost 40,000 years old.

At the opposite end of the Mediterranean, similar beads from two Israeli caves, Qafzeh and Skhul, were dated to 92,000 and at least 100,000 years ago.

Back in South Africa, a 2010 team led by the University of Bordeaux’s Pierre-Jean Texier reported finding 60,000-year-old engraved ostrich eggshells in Diepkloof Rock Shelter north of Cape Town.