Cave painting in Indonesia at least 40,000 years old

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In addition to the animal drawing, researchers have also found reddish-orange-colored hand stencils from the same site, one of which may date back to as old as 51,800 years ago. They showed that the calcite layers were youngest at the surface and oldest closer to the paintings, meaning the dating is sound, Aubert says.

"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 archaeologist involved in the study, in a press release issued by Griffith University.

The team called it "the oldest figurative rock art image in the world", as far as they know, and "one of the earliest-known figurative representations of an animal", being comparable in age with the mammoth-ivory figurines from the Swabian region of Germany.

The region - located precisely in Borneo - was the eastern part of the Eurasian Continent in the ice age on an area of 13,000 square kilometers (5,000 square miles). The revelation that a Palaeolithic rock art tradition was established in Indonesia at least 40,000 years ago challenges the long-held belief that Europe was the cradle of early artistic creativity. "Exactly, most of what we know about our deep past is from archaeological excavation and usually we found things that people left behind - essentially their trash".

Media captionScientists spent several days trekking through rural Borneo to find the 40,000-year-old artwork.

The world's oldest figurative painting has been found in a cave, along with other phases showing a progression of human artwork, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

The researchers aren't certain what animal it represents, but their hunch is that it's a banteng, a type of wild cow that lives in the area today. Last year, researchers uncovered a vast array of mysterious pre-Columbian rock art in the caves of a remote uninhabited Caribbean island.

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On the wall of the cave, scientists have discovered the image of red bull, the age of which is about 40 thousand years. So when a calcite coating forms form rainwater on top of a painting, it initially contains uranium but no thorium. This would make it slightly older than similar animal paintings found in famous caves in France and Spain.

Maxime Aubert said: "It looks like there was a transition from depicting the animal world to [depicting] the human world". The team used uranium dating of the calcium carbonate deposits that built up over and around the paintings.

Rock art expert Adhi Agus Oktaviana, another author of the study, said that "the new findings illustrate that the story of how cave art emerged is complex". This particular style of hand stencil dates to the height of the Last Glacial Maximum about 20,000 years ago.

"Most of the paintings we actually can't sample", said Aubert.

The animals, said Dr Aubert, are "painted in the same style with a large body and small legs".

"Who those artists were is unclear, but the most likely scenario is that they were Homo sapiens, ancient humans", says Brumm. "People adopted similar strategies in different environments as they became more modern".

The artists in this phase favored a dark mulberry-purple color and painted hand stencils, abstract signs and human-like figures wearing elaborate headdresses and engaging in various activities, such as hunting or ritualistic dancing, the researchers said. Rock art was made for a goal and we can see how people lived a long time ago in a way that archaeology can't provide.

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