Anthropologists investigating caves in France have found artefacts that may have represented animated movement by using "flickering" images.
At the heart of cinematography is the principle of retinal persistence, the phenomenon whereby the human eye retains images of an event for fractionally longer than it actually happens. This is what lets us see movement in films as continuous, even though films are no more than a series of rapidly changing pictures.
Marc Azema, a researcher at the Prehistoric Art Research and Study Centre in Toulouse, said it appeared that Stone-Age humans had discovered retinal persistence and used it to make toys and artefacts that foreshadowed the modern cinema.
In a paper to be published in the academic journal Antiquity, Mr Azema and Florent Rivere, a co-researcher, said: "Paleolithic (Stone-Age) artists invented the principle of sequential animation, based on the properties of retinal persistence. This was achieved by showing a series of juxtaposed or superimposed images of the same animal."
The artefacts on which the researchers based their theory have been found in Stone-Age cave dwellings in France including the renowned Chauvet cave in the Ardeche and the Baume-Latrone cave in Gard, Languedoc-Roussillon.