I researched a bit of the history of animation to gain better knowledge of the subject…
Animation is essentially making the illusion of motion and change, early attempts of animation include cave paintings where the attempt of capturing motion was seen in animals in stages.
Other early attempts include:
Phenakistoscope – A spinning circular disk that was placed on a vertical handle, the artwork for these would loop as the device was spun.
Zoetrope – The pictures on the inside of this were viewed through slits around the outside and when spinnning created the illusion of motion.
Praxinoscope – This was the successor to the Zoetrope, but added mirror on the inside of the wheel, reflecting the images in a way we would recognize as a cartoon.
All of these can be compared to GIFS, looping until the viewer stops viewing.