Newly discovered hieroglyphics that are more than 5,000 years old relay a message about the universe to archaeologists as well as tell them about how the ancient Egyptian writing system evolved.

The large symbols, believed to be the earliest of their kind ever uncovered, were found carved into rock at the El Kab site, formerly the ancient city Nekhab, which was along the Nile River south of the capital, Thebes. They appear to start with a herd of elephants — including one with a smaller elephant inside it, showing it is pregnant — drawn between 4,000 and 3,500 B.C. That moves on to another section of animal symbols dating to about 3,250 B.C. and drawn from right to left as ancient Egyptian texts typically were. That panel includes a bull’s head, two storks and a bird called a bald ibis. The researchers suggest their arrangement is meant to portray a relationship between a royal authority and the universe, with the ibis flying over the others.

Read: Ancient Egyptians Were More Asian Than African, DNA Shows

The panel of the four animals might also depict the solar cycle and light in the cosmos, as those concepts were what the ancient people were portraying in later similar arrangements.

In a statement from Yale University, which worked with the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels, researcher John Coleman Darnell refers to the symbols as “formative stages of the hieroglyphic script.” Because they are early representations of the written language from across a few centuries, they show “how the ancient Egyptians invented their unique writing system.”

The nesting elephants are particularly intriguing because that “is an incredibly rare way of representing a pregnant female animal,” Darnell said.

Beyond that, the ibis was a sacred image — one that appeared in hieroglyphics throughout the civilization’s history — because the animal was believed to be connected to the god of the moon and wisdom, Thoth.

Hieroglyphics Newly discovered and large hieroglyphics show how the ancient Egyptian written language evolved. Photo: Yale University

The archaeologists found the hieroglyphics by following road networks because there were often such carvings along major passages down the Nile or outward into the desert.

“This discovery isn’t new in the sense that this is the first time that anyone has seen these hieroglyphs,” Darnell said about the exact symbols carved into the rock. But it is “the first time that anyone has seen them on such a massive scale.”

Each symbol is nearly 2 feet tall whereas previous signs were an inch or less.

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Another conclusion the experts have made about these symbols is that they show hieroglyphics were widespread early in their use as opposed to simply being used for governmental purposes and developed slowly.

The ancient Egyptian civilization lasted for many centuries, so there’s a lot we can learn about early societies from those kingdoms and a lot that archaeologists are still discovering about them. DNA has recently confirmed the people who lived along the Nile River all those thousands of years ago were more genetically Asian while their modern counterparts are more African. And feline DNA shows the Egyptians were among the first groups to domesticate cats.