A picture of what's believed to be crudely drawn huts on a stone slab has scientists excited, despite its seemingly rudimentary style—or, rather, because of it. Archaeologists say the rock etching found at the Moli del Salt site in Spain is about 13,800 years old and breaks all the conventional rules of art from the Paleolithic era, the Los Angeles Times reports. "We think that someone was experimenting with new themes, focusing for the first time on the social realm," Marcos Garcia-Diez and Manuel Vaquero, co-authors of the paper describing the find, tell the Times. What exactly appears on the 7-inch-wide, 3-inch-high rock: what look to be seven semi-circular huts at a campsite, etched—"probably with another rock or a pointed flint artifact," the paper notes—into three rows on the stone to perhaps create depth in the image, per the authors. The rock was unearthed in 2013 at the site about 30 miles west of Barcelona, though nothing seemed special about it initially, notes the Times.
But once the dirt and debris was wiped off the specimen, they realized they might have something more on their hands. The study, published in PLOS One, notes that "landscapes and features of the everyday world were scarcely represented" during that hunter-gatherer time period; instead, animals, symbols, and "figurative motifs," especially those linked to that society's religious and magical beliefs, were de rigueur. "Unlike other purported examples of landscape depictions, it mainly represents a human landscape, suggesting that the human world was the main concern of the artist," the authors write, per the Christian Science Monitor. But not everyone is so sure that the Paleolithic artist was a true rebel: An archaeology professor from the UK's Durham University says that, because that era's art is often hard to decipher, the scribblings may symbolize nothing more than what the New Scientist labels "highly stylized animals." (Most ancient cave artists were probably women.)