Cave paint­ings from 40,000 years are world’s ear­li­est fig­u­ra­tive art

The Phnom Penh Post - - LIFESTYLE -

APAINTING of an an­i­mal in an In­done­sian cave dates from at least 40,000 years ago, mak­ing it the world’s old­est piece of fig­u­ra­tive art, new re­search has shown.

The paint­ing in Bor­neo, pos­si­bly de­pict­ing a na­tive type of wild cat­tle, is among thou­sands of art­works dis­cov­ered decades ago in the re­mote re­gion.

But it was only us­ing tech­nolog y ca lled ura­nium se­ries anal­y­sis that re­searchers have fi­nally been able to work out just when they were painted.

The dis­cov­ery adds to a grow­ing body of ev­i­dence that cave paint­ing did not emerge only in Europe, as was once thought.

“We can see that fig­u­ra­tive art de­vel­oped and evolved more or less at the same time in Asia and in Europe,” re­searcher Maxime Au­bert told AFP.

In 2014, re­searchers dated fig­u­ra­tive art on the In­done­sian is­land of Su­lawesi to 35,000 years ago, but some of the paint­ings ex­am­ined by y Au­bert and his team in nearby Bor­neo rneo were pro­duced at least 5,000 years ear­lier.

Au­bert, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor es­sor at Aus­tra lia’s Grif fit h Univer­sit rsit y, worked with a team in re­mote and in­ac­ces­si­ble caves in t he East Kal­i­man­tan area of Bor­neo to date e t the he paint­ings.

The team, whose re­search was pub­lished in t he journa l Na­ture on Wed­nes­day, looked at mul­ti­ple lay­ers of art work painted on top of each ot her.

The bot­tom-most and old­est layer fea­tured paint­ings of an­i­mals, mostly a lo­cal type of cat­tle, as well as hand sten­cils in a red­dish colour.

On top of those art­works were hand sten­cils in a mul­berry colour grouped in pat­terns and em­bel­lished with lines and dots, as well as small stick-like hu­man fig­ures in the same colour.

The fi­nal layer fea­tured peo­ple, boats and geo­met­ric de­signs.

Au­bert and his team em­ployed a tech­nique called ura­nium se­ries dat­ing, which in­volves analysing lay­ers of the min­eral cal­cite that formed on top of the paint­ing over the years, as well as the ma­te­rial un- derneath the art.

They re­moved sam­ples smaller t han 1cm across from t he art works and found one paint­ing of an an­i­mal had been pro­duced at least 40,000 years ago, and pos­si­bly nearly 52,000 years ago.

“To our knowl­edge, the large an­i­mal paint­ing . . . is the old­est fig­u­ra­tive rock art image in the world,” the team’s study said.

The paint­ing is in fact one of the ear­li­est-known rep­re­sen­ta­tions of any kind of an an­i­mal, dat­ing from a sim­i­lar pe­riod to mam­moth­ivory fig­urines found in Ger­many, the study added.

‘An in­ti­mate win­dow’

For many years, cave art was thought to have emerged from Europe, where famed pieces have been dis­cov­ered and dated in Spain, Italy and France.

But the In­done­sian paint­ings chal­lenge that the­ory.

“It now seems that two early cave art prov­inces arose at a sim­i­lar time in re­mote cor­ners of Palae­olithic Eura­sia: one in Europe and one in In­done­sia, at the op­po­site end of this ice age world,” said Adam Brum, an arche­ol­o­gist in­volved in the study, in a press re­lease is­sued by Grif­fith Univer­sity.

The sec­ond layer of art­work dates to around 20,000 years ago, and sug­gests an in­ter­est­ing evo­lu­tion in the art­work of the era.

“Around 20,000 years ago, paint­ing be­comes of the hu­man world, not the an­i­mal world. We see the same thing in Europe at more or less the same time,” Au­bert told AFP.

He plans to carry out fur­ther test­ing of other art­work in In­done­sia, as well as pieces in Aus­tralia, and said he felt a per­sonal con­nec­tion to the past when ex­am­in­ing the paint­ings.

“It’s amaz­ing to see that. It’s an in­ti­mate win­dow into the past.”

LUC-HENRI FAGE/KALI­MAN­THROPE.COM/NA­TURE PUB­LISH­ING GROUP/AFP

A hand­out photo re­leased on Novem­ber 7 by the Na­ture Pub­lish­ing Group shows the world’s old­est fig­u­ra­tive art­work from Bor­neo dated to a min­i­mum of 40.000 years.

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