A March 2008 article by Ryan Ball in Animation Magazine claimed that the oldest piece of animation had been discovered: a 5,200-year-old rotating bowl from Tehran, a bit like an inside-out zoetrope depicting a jumping goat. When I saw this, I immediately wanted to blog about it: but there was something wrong about the 9-frame animated GIF at the bottom that held me back...
Reading a little more (as you do), I found a 2006 post on Neil Cohn's Visual Linguist website (apparently the jumping goat bowl had originally been news in 2005) that deconstructed the GIF: the sequence of frames had been doctored to make it look more like an animation (a term Cohn felt wasn't really justifiable) than it really was, because there were only actually 5 "frames" in the sequence on the bowl.
The last comment on Cohn's page points to Alexis Chazard's more appropriate 5-frame animation of the goat, taken directly (as far as was possible) from actual pictures of the bowl. There's also a nice set of photographs from Iran that put the bowl more into context here.
All in all, I think it's a huge shame that someone went to the trouble of mocking up a dodgy 9-frame GIF, apparently to try to oversell the animation aspect of the bowl. If that person had simply assembled the 5 frames exactly as they appeared (particularly if they had found specific evidence of an axis of rotation and had specifically taken 5 pictures at 72 degree rotation intervals, la la la), it would have been a perfectly acceptable demonstration. Basically,in a 5000-year-old artefact, nobody's expecting Shrek to jump out at us, och no, Donkey. ;-)
Incidentally, the first documented zoetrope came from the Chinese inventor Ting Huan in about 180AD: not many people know that, unless you're a bit of a Wikipede (or should I say "Wikipedant"?) (or "Wikipedophile"?)