Its precise red, black and white rectangles recall Modernist art by Mondrian or Klee, but this painting – recently discovered in the Syrian countryside – is actually the oldest wall painting known to man.
"Through carbon dating, we established it is from around 9000BC," said Eric Coqueugniot, the leader of a French archaeological team which unearthed it. "We found another painting next to it but that won't be excavated until next year. It is slow work."
The wall picture, measuring 2m by 2m, was found below ground at Djade al-Mughara, a Neolithic settlement on the Euphrates river north-east of the city of Aleppo. Experts say the painting would have formed part of the circular wall of a large house. Its red tint came from burnt hematite rock, while crushed limestone formed the white and charcoal provided the black.
The wall will be moved and put on display at Aleppo Museum next year. Before the discovery, the world's oldest wall painting was thought to be an example found in Turkey. But that was created 1,500 years after the Djade al-Mughara example, according to Science magazine.
The settlement's ancient inhabitants were hunters who also foraged for wild plants. They resembled modern humans but were not farmers or herders, Mr Coqueugniot said. "There was a purpose in having the painting in what looked like a communal house but we don't know what it was. The village was later abandoned and the house stuffed with mud," he added.
However, Youssef Kenjo, the head of excavations in the Aleppo Archaeological Directorate, suggested that the house appeared to be used for "religious rituals and social occasions".
Mustafa Ali, a Syrian artist, said the geometric pattern used in the painting found its way into art throughout the Levant and Persia, and could be still be seen in the designs of traditional carpets and rugs.Reuse content