First cave art an­i­mals drawn by Asians, not Euro­peans

The Daily Telegraph - - News - By Sarah Knap­ton SCIENCE ED­I­TOR

THE world’s old­est paint­ing of an an­i­mal has been dis­cov­ered in Bor­neo, dat­ing back to 12,000 years be­fore the ear­li­est known ex­am­ples in Europe.

Un­til now it was al­ways as­sumed that fig­u­ra­tive cave paint­ing – de­pict­ing an­i­mals and peo­ple – orig­i­nated in west­ern Europe around 40,000 years ago, although the ear­li­est ab­stract art has re­cently been found dat­ing from 73,000 years ago in South Africa.

But re­searchers have now found the ear­li­est an­i­mal art­work in caves in re­mote moun­tains of East Kal­i­man­tan – an area that once joined the Eurasian land mass – which may be 52,000 years old. It de­picts crea­tures with horns, per­haps wild cows or bi­son.

“The old­est cave-art im­age we dated is a large paint­ing of an uniden­ti­fied an­i­mal, prob­a­bly a species of wild cat­tle still found in the jun­gles of Bor­neo,” said Maxime Au­bert, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor from Grif­fith Uni­ver­sity in Aus­tralia. “Our re­search sug­gests that rock art spread from Bor­neo into Su­lawesi and other new worlds be­yond Eura­sia, per­haps ar­riv­ing with the first peo­ple to colonise Aus­tralia.”

The find­ing adds to the mount­ing be­lief that cave art – one of the most im­por­tant in­no­va­tions in hu­man cul­tural his­tory – did not be­gin in Europe as long ago as be­lieved and that “ice age” artists in south-east Asia played a key role in its de­vel­op­ment.

The East Kal­i­man­tan caves con­tain thou­sands of pre­his­toric paint­ings, draw­ings, and other im­agery, in­clud­ing de­pic­tions of hu­man hands (“sten­cils”), an­i­mals, ab­stract signs and sym­bols, and re­lated mo­tifs. They had been thought to date from around 20,000 years ago but new ura­nium-series dat­ing on rock sam­ples has shown some are much older, from be­tween 40,000 and 52,000 years ago.

“Who the ice-age artists of Bor­neo were and what hap­pened to them is a mys­tery,” said Dr Pindi Se­ti­awan, an In­done­sian ar­chae­ol­o­gist at Ban­dung In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy and team co-leader.

Images of wild cows or bi­son found in Bor­neo show cave artists were at work long be­fore Eu­ro­pean coun­ter­parts

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