London: Ancient cave artists created the illusion of images moving across cave walls, relying on "cartoon-like" techniques, say French researchers.
The startling findings are reported by archaeologist Marc Azema of the University of Toulouse-Le Mirail and artist Florent Rivere. They claimed that prehistoric man foreshadowed the invention of cinema by creating art with a rudimentary understanding of the principle of persistence of vision.
Studying cave art across France, Azema and Rivere found that the paintings were actually primitive attempts at animation. These depicted animals that seemed to have multiple limbs, heads and tails.
When the images are viewed under the unsteady light of flickering flames the images can appear to move, the study claimed, the journal Antiquity reports.
It is also believed that prehistoric relics previously thought to have been used as buttons were actually designed as thaumatropes - double-sided pictures that can be spun to blur the images into an animation, according to the Daily Mail.
Azema, after 20 years of researching the Stone Age animation techniques, has identified 53 paintings in 12 French caves which superimpose two or more images to apparently represent movement. They show animals trotting, galloping, tossing their heads or shaking their tails.
"Lascaux is the cave with the greatest number of cases of split-action movement by superimposition of successive images," Azema was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.
"Some 20 animals, principally horses, have the head, legs or tail multiplied." When these paintings are viewed by flickering torchlight, the animated effect "achieves its full impact", he added.
Azema and Rivere claim their remarkable theory is backed up by the discovery that ancient engraved discs were used as thaumatropes - formerly claimed to have been invented in 1825 by astronomer John Hershel.
A popular toy in Victorian times, thaumatropes (`miracle wheels`) were discs or cards with a picture in each side attached to a piece of string. When the string was twirled quickly between the fingers the two pictures appeared to combine into a single animated image.
Rivere believes that Palaeolithic artists created similar optical toys well before their apparent invention in the 19th century.