First cave art animals drawn by Asians, not Europeans
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