Published: Fri, November 09, 2018

Red Bull Drawn in Indonesian Cave Dates to 40,000 Years Ago

Red Bull Drawn in Indonesian Cave Dates to 40,000 Years Ago

"We know that modern humans arrived around 40-thousand years ago in Europe, but they were in Southeast Asia at least 20-thousand years before that-and also in Australia". Homo sapiens left Africa between about 70,000 and 60,000 years ago, and "once they spread out across Eurasia, they developed, after about 40,000 years ago, the desire (or ability) to produce figurative art", Christopher Henshilwood, director of the Centre for Early Sapiens Behaviour at the University of Bergen in Norway, who wasn't involved with the study, told in an email.

This composite image from the book "Borneo, Memory of the Caves" shows the world's oldest figurative artwork dated to a minimum of 40,000 years, in a limestone cave in the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo.

The area of Borneo where the caves are located is relatively unexplored, so there could be many other examples waiting to be found.

We now believe the Borneo artworks are far older than previously thought, according to research we conducted with colleagues from the National Research Center for Archaeology (ARKENAS) in Jakarta and other Indonesian scientists.

Prior to the study, the oldest known animal painting in the world was a "pig-deer" called babirusa, which was found on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia.

Media captionScientists spent several days trekking through rural Borneo to find the 40,000-year-old artwork. The team, whose research was published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, looked at multiple layers of artwork painted on top of each other.

Researchers aren't certain what animal it is, but believe it could be a banteng - a type of wild cow which still exists in Borneo today.


These artworks include a painting of what seems to be a local species of wild cattle, which makes it the world's oldest example of figurative art - that is, an image that looks like the thing it is meant to represent. First there were lines, then hand stenciling and eventually figurative art depicting images from everyday life such as animals and people. Through dating, a study has found that the cave paintings are approximate 40,000 years old.

"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. This attractive region is remote and difficult-to-access, and contains numerous caves, some of which contain remarkable drawings made by early humans.

The figurative painting is of wild cattle, part of a large panel with three large animal paintings. The transition to depicting the human world hints a significant change occurred in the region, according to researchers.

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. The researchers can take a sample of the cave and determine the ratio of uranium to thorium, allowing them to better calculate the age of the art. "They develop gradually over 100,000 years if not more".

Limestone karst of East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. "We see the same thing in Europe at more or less the same time", Aubert said.

But Aubert says that might soon change.

"Around 20,000 years ago, painting becomes of the human world, not the animal world". "The new findings illustrate that the story of how cave art emerged is complex", Oktaviana said.

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