Archaeologists are studying prehistoric rock drawings discovered in a remote cave in 2002, including dancing figures and strange headless beasts, as they seek new clues about the rise of Egyptian civilisation.
Amateur explorers stumbled across the cave, which includes 5,000 images painted or engraved into stone, in the vast, empty desert near Egypt's southwest border with Libya and Sudan.
Rudolph Kuper, a German archaeologist, said the detail depicted in the "Cave of the Beasts" indicate the site is at least 8,000 years old, likely the work of hunter-gatherers whose descendants may have been among the early settlers of the then-swampy and inhospitable Nile Valley.
The cave is 10 km (6 miles) from the "Cave of the Swimmers" romanticised in the film the "English Patient", but with far more, and better preserved, images.
By studying the sandstone cave and other nearby sites, the archaeologists are trying to build a timeline to compare the culture and technologies of the peoples who inhabited the area.
Heritage Key (Sean Williams)
Prehistoric cave painters in the Sahara Desert gave rise to ancient Egyptian civilisation, according to a German archaeological team. The paintings in a caves in Gilf Kebir, a vast sandstone plateau near the Egyptian-Libyan border, may be over 400 miles from the River Nile. But the team claims it was once a thriving community which later spread east to create Egypt's famous cities and landmarks.
The plateau, a Martian landscape the size of Switzerland, is home to two famous caves, the 'Cave of the Swimmers' and the 'Cave of the Beasts' - Watch our amazing video of the caves and their paintings here. The former was discovered by Hungarian explorer László Almásy and immortalised in the novel and Academy Award-winning movie The English Patient. But it is the latter which the team believe could unlock the secrets of how ancient Egypt began.
Rudolf Kuper, of Köln's Heinrich Barth Institute, believes the Cave of the Beasts' detail dates it back around 8,000 years. He claims its artists' descendents would eventually emigrate to the Nile Valley to create pharaonic Egypt. "It is the most amazing cave ... in North Africa and Egypt," German expert Karin Kindermann tells AP. "You take a piece of the puzzle and see where it could fit. This is an important piece."