Oldest known figurative cave art discovered in Borneo
th University researchers have dated cave paintings in Borneo to as early as 40,000 years ago, showing that these enigmatic artworks are among the world’s oldest examples of figurative depiction.
This finding adds to the mounting view that cave art – one of the most important innovations in human cultural history – did not arise in Europe as long believed, and that ‘ice age’ artists in Southeast Asia played a key role in its development.
Since the 1990s, caves in remote and rugged mountains of East Kalimantan, an Indonesian province of Borneo, have been known to contain prehistoric paintings, drawings, and other imagery, including thousands of depictions of human hands (‘stencils’), animals, abstract signs and symbols, and related motifs.
These near-inaccessible artworks are now known to be far older than previously thought, according to a study led by Griffith’s Associate Professor Maxime Aubert, along with Indonesia’s National Research Centre for Archaeology (ARKENAS), and the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB).
Associate Professor Aubert’s team reports Uraniumseries dates obtained from calcium carbonate samples collected from the Kalimantan cave art, providing the first reliable estimates for the approximate time of rock art production.
“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 – this has a minimum age of around 40,000 years and is now the earliest known figurative artwork,” Associate Professor Aubert said.
The Kalimantan stencil art was shown to be similar in age, suggesting that a Palaeolithic rock art tradition first appeared on Borneo between about 52,000 and 40,000 years ago.
“Who the ice age artists of Borneo were and what happened to them is a mystery,” said team co-leader Dr Pindi Setiawan, an Indonesian archaeologist and lecturer at ITB.
A rock painting of a wild bovid from Borneo