Erotic cave paintings could be 37,000 years old

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A gallery of prehistoric cave paintings has been found in south-western France, including a drawing of a 12ft long bison and erotic sketches.

The find, at Cussac, in the valley of the Dordogne, is regarded as almost as important as the celebrated Lascaux cave paintings in the same area. This latest discovery was made by Marc Delluc, an amateur archaeologist in September, but the richness of his finds were not known until yesterday. French anthropologists said the site was important because it contained "monumental" drawings of animals in friezes of up to 25 yards long. These are sketches rather than paintings ­ more primitive, almost certainly older than the Lascaux pictures and perhaps up to 37,000 years old.

The caves also contain erotic drawings of women, which have been found previously only in the caverns discovered in 1994 in the Ardèche region.

The caverns, which extend for a total of more than half a mile, are thought to contain up to 200 separate drawings.

Norbert Aujoulat of the National Prehistory Centre of the Ministry of Culture, said they included "the standard bestiary of the palaeolithic world, mammoths, rhinoceroses, deer, and many bisons and horses.

"These are monumental drawings, with one panel 25 metres long comprising 40 figures, including a bison four metres long."

Mr Aujoulat said the caves also included creatures rarely represented in prehistorical paintings, such as birds.

The bones of five people from the early neolithic era were also found. Henri Duday, an anthropologist from the French national research centre, CNRS, said these bones could date back to 35,000BC.