According to this theory, the development of cave art coincided with the displacement of Neanderthal man by anatomically modern man, starting around 40,000 BCE.Indeed, it was from about this date that the earliest rock art began to emerge in caves and rock shelters around the world, but especially throughout the Franco-Cantabrian region.
The most spectacular examples of this rock art have been discovered in southwestern France and northern Spain - hence it is sometimes referred to as Franco-Cantabrian cave art - where archeologists have found some 350 caves containing Upper Paleolithic artworks.
At first, Stone Age artists painted predator animals (lions, rhinoceroses, sabre-toothed felines, bears) almost as often as game animals like bison and reindeer, but from the Solutrean era onwards imagery was dominated by game animals.
Pictures of humans were an exceptionally rare occurrence, and were usually highly stylized and far less naturalistic than the animal figures.
The largest cave clusters are in the Dordogne (Lascaux, Cussac, Laussel, Font-de-Gaume, Les Combarelles, Rouffignac), and around Monte Castillo in the district of Puente Viesgo, Cantabria, but other magnificently decorated caves have been found in various parts of the world - including South Africa, Argentina, India, China, Australia and elsewhere.
At present, the earliest art in prehistoric caves, whose dates of origin have been authenticated by radiocarbon dating, consists of abstract signs - namely a red dot and a hand print - found among the El Castillo cave paintings in Cantabria, Spain.