French cave paintings are work of three-year-olds

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Cave etchingsCC

If you thought the scribblings of ancient man were childlike then you may not be far off the truth.

New research has shown that some of the so-called 'finger flutings' on the walls of the Caves of a Hundred Mammouths in Rouffignac were made by children as young as three.

It has even been discovered that there are whole areas of the 8km cave system dedicated to the children's drawings.

Cambridge University researchers recently developed a method identifying the gender and age of the artists whose work attracts thousands of visitors a year.

The most prolific cave etching artist was a girl aged five. Unlike the sketches that appear elsewhere in the caves, the markings are made without the application of colour pigment.

Archaeologist Jess Cooney who pioneered the research said: "Flutings made by children appear in every chamber throughout the caves.

"We have found marks by children aged between three and seven years old - and we have been able to identify four individual children by matching up their marks.

"The most prolific of the children who made flutings was aged around five - and we are almost certain the child in question was a girl."

The caves in the Dordogne region of western France feature drawings of mammoths, rhinoceros and horses.

Ms Cooney continued: "One cavern is so rich in flutings made by children that it suggests it was a special space for them, but whether for play or ritual is impossible to tell."

Finger fluting also appears in caves in Spain, New Guinea and Australia. "We don't know why people made them," said the archaeologist, adding that they may have been part of "initiation rituals" or "simply something to do on a rainy day".