The world’s oldest known cave painting of an animal was discovered by scientists in Borneo, Indonesia. The painting, which depicts a red silhouette of a bull-like beast, dates back to at least 40,000 years ago, according to a new study published in the journal Nature.
The drawing, which was spotted by a team of archaeologists from Australia and Indonesia, is said to be even older than similar animal paintings found in France’s Chauvet cave and Spain’s Cave of Altamira.
“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,” Maxime Aubert, lead author of the study and an archaeologist at Australia’s Griffith University, said in a statement.
The meaning of the animal drawing is unknown. “We think it wasn’t just food for them — it meant something special,” Aubert told the Associated Press.
In addition to the animal drawing, which is about 5 feet wide, the scientists also found red- and purple-colored hand stencils and cave paintings of human scenes. These remote limestone caves on Borneo have been known to contain prehistoric drawings since the 1990s.
The finding adds to the mounting view that cave art featuring animals and figures did not arise from Europe as experts long believed, and that “ice age” artists in Southeast Asia played a key role in its development.
A 2014 Nature paper published by Aubert and Brumm (with ARKENAS) revealed that similar cave art appeared in the Indonesian island of Sulawesi about 40,000 years ago.
“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 Brumm, an archaeologist and associate professor at Griffith also involved in the study.
To reach the newly discovered paintings, Aubert and his team used machetes to hack through thick jungle, and then walked and crawled through miles of caves that featured hundreds of ancient paintings, looking for artwork that could be dated. They needed to find specific mineral deposits on the drawings to determine their age with technology that measures decay of the element uranium, according to the AP.
“Most of the paintings we actually can’t sample,” said Aubert.
Excavations in the Indonesian caves will be conducted to learn more about the people who made thee paintings. A few sites have already been identified, and are said to contain human bones, prehistoric jewelry, and remains of small animals, the AP reported.
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