DAMASCUS (Reuters) - French archaeologists have discovered an 11,000-year-old wall painting underground in northern Syria which they believe is the oldest in the world.
The 2 square-meter painting, in red, black and white, was found at the Neolithic settlement of Djade al-Mughara on the Euphrates, northeast of the city of Aleppo, team leader Eric Coqueugniot told Reuters.
"It looks like a modernist painting. Some of those who saw it have likened it to work by (Paul) Klee. Through carbon dating we established it is from around 9,000 B.C.," Coqueugniot said.
"We found another painting next to it, but that won't be excavated until next year. It is slow work," said Coqueugniot, who works at France's National Centre for Scientific Research.
Rectangles dominate the ancient painting, which formed part of an adobe circular wall of a large house with a wooden roof. The site has been excavated since the early 1990s.
The painting will be moved to Aleppo's museum next year, Coqueugniot said. Its red came from burnt hematite rock, crushed limestone formed the white and charcoal provided the black.
The world's oldest painting on a constructed wall was one found in Turkey but that was dated 1,500 years after the one at Djade al-Mughara, according to Science magazine.
The inhabitants of Djade al-Mughara lived off hunting and wild plants. They resembled modern day humans in looks but were not farmers or domesticated, Coqueugniot said.
"There was a purpose in having the painting in what looked like a communal house, but we don't know it. The village was later abandoned and the house stuffed with mud," he said.
A large number of flints and weapons have been found at the site as well as human skeletons buried under houses.
"This site is one of several Neolithic villages in modern day Syria and southern Turkey. They seem to have communicated with each other and had peaceful exchanges," Coqueugniot said.
Mustafa Ali, a leading Syrian artist, said similar geometric design to that in the Djade al-Mughara painting found its way into art throughout the Levant and Persia, and can even be seen in carpets and kilims (rugs).
"We must not lose sight that the painting is archaeological, but in a way it's also modern," he said.
France is an important contributor to excavation efforts in Syria, where 120 teams are at work. Syria was at the crossroads of the ancient world and has thousands of mostly unexcavated archaeological sites.
Swiss-German artist Paul Klee had links with the Bauhaus school and was important in the German modernist movement.