Before Dora the Explorer: Pre-historic hunter- gather children actually went to school
ARCHEOLOGISTS have uncovered cave art providing evidence that hunter-gather children may have attended a form of prehistoric pre-school.
Researchers at Cambridge University have revealed that 13,000 years before CBeebies, children were creating art in caves alongside their parents.
A conference on the Archaeology of Childhood at the university starting today will reveal the latest research into art made by young children in one of the most famous prehistoric decorated caves in France - the complex of caverns at Rouffignac, also known as the Cave of a Hundred Mammoths.
Stunning drawings of mammoths, rhinoceros and horses represent just a small proportion of the art to be found within the 8km cave system.
Also evident are thousands of lines - a simple form of art or decoration known as finger flutings - made by people running their hands down the soft surfaces of the walls and roofs of the many galleries and passages that make up the complex.
Archaeologist Jess Cooney said: "Flutings made by children appear in every chamber throughout the caves even those that are a good 45 minutes' walk from the entrance - so far, we haven't found anywhere that adults fluted without children.
"Some of the children's flutings are high up on the walls and on the ceilings, so they must have been held up to make them or have been sitting on someone's shoulders.
"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.
"Interestingly, of the four children we know at least two are girls.
"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."
Archaeologists first realised that children had produced some of the finger flutings back in 2006.
Fieldwork carried out earlier this year by Cooney and Leslie Van Gelder of Walden University, US, shows just how young they were.
Though impossible to date accurately, the images found deep inside the Rouffignac caves - a network created by river systems - are likely to be at least 13,000 years old.
The flutings also raise questions over age identity - whether children were seen as we are now - and apparent gender equality.
Finger fluting also appears in caves in France, Spain, New Guinea and Australia.
Cooney said: "We don't know why people made them. We can make guesses like they were for initiation rituals, for training of some kind, or simply something to do on a rainy day.
"In addition to the simple meandering lines, there are flutings of animals and shapes that appear to be very crude outlines of faces, almost cartoon-like in appearance."