Thursday, October 9, 2014
Indonesian Cave Paintings As Old As Europe's Ancient Art
Prehistoric cave paintings of animals and human hands in Indonesia are as ancient as similar paintings found in Western Europe, according to a new study that suggests humans may have carried this art tradition with them when they migrated out of Africa.
"Until now, we've always believed that cave painting was part of a suite of complex symbolic behavior that humans invented in Europe," says archaeologist Alistair Pike of the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom. "This is actually showing that it's highly unlikely that the origin of painting caves was in Europe."
For decades, Indonesian researchers have known about rock art in limestone caves and rock shelters on an island called Sulawesi. The hand stencils and images of local animals, such as the "pig-deer," or babirusa, were assumed to be less than 10,000 years old, because scientists thought that the humid tropical environment would have destroyed anything older.
"The truth of it was, no one had really tried to date it," says Matt Tocheri of the Human Origins Program of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. "It's not easy to date rock art."
Now, though, in the journal Nature, a group of researchers from Indonesia and Australia, led by Maxime Aubert and Adam Brumm, have analyzed mineral deposits that formed on top of these paintings in seven caves.
Their analysis shows that one hand stencil is at least 39,900 years old and a painting of a babirusa is at least 35,400 years old.
Those ages are comparable to the age of a painted rhinoceros from the famous Chauvet Cave in France, which has been dated to 35,300 to 38,827 years ago. The oldest known cave painting is a red disk found on the wall of a Spanish cave that's at least 40,800 years old. npr