Painted 40,000 years ago, world's earliest cave paintings discovered in Borneo

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They dated hand stencils, created by blowing red dye through a tube to capture the outline of a hand pressed against rock, to nearly 40,000 years ago.

"I have no doubt that they have dated painting to at least 40,000 years at their oldest site, and this is an exciting result as it shows that cave painting wasn't an isolated event. but that it had a wide geographical distribution", Prof Pike explained.

This, the archaeologists said, indicates a cultural shift around 20,000 years ago, with the focus of art moving from the natural world to one dominated by the human experience.

Until now it was always assumed figurative cave painting - depicting animals and people - originated in western Europe about 40,000 years ago, although the earliest abstract art has recently been found dating from 73,000 years ago in South Africa.

The remote limestones caves on Borneo have been known to contain prehistoric drawings since the 1990s. For many years, cave art was thought to have emerged from Europe, where famed pieces have been discovered and dated in Spain, Italy and France. The drawings were first identified back in 1994, but the researchers didn't know when they were created.

"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 Associate Professor Adam Brumm, a Griffith archaeologist also involved in the study.

Ancient figurative cave art, 40,000 years old.

The study was published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature. Until a few years ago, experts believed Europe was where mankind's ancestors started drawing animals and other figures. Well, if you get lucky - and Aubert and his team did - some rock will have grown over the art in the intervening millennia.

This research team also discovered 35,000-year-old figurative animal cave art and 40,000-year-old hand stencils in Sulawesi, which lies between Asia and Australia. In addition to the bull, they dated red- and purple-colored hand stencils and cave paintings of human scenes.

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"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 archeologist and lecturer at the Bandung Institute of Technology.

Researchers are trying to find out if the paintings were made by different groups during different periods, or if they evolved naturally along with the society.

Maxime Aubert said: "It looks like there was a transition from depicting the animal world to [depicting] the human world".

In the cave have been preserved and thousands of drawings later, created about 20 thousand years ago, which depict human figures.

To come up with the 40,000-year date for the painting of the animal, Dr Aubert and colleagues used scientific dating techniques on calcium carbonate deposits which are associated with the image.

Limestone mountains in East Kalimantan, Borneo.

"Many of these stencils are partly in-filled with painted lines, dashes, dots and small abstract signs that possibly represent tattoos or other marks of social identification, and in some instances hand stencils are linked together by painted mulberry lines that form intricate tree-like motifs, which perhaps symbolize kinship connections", they wrote.

It's believed that cave art began around 50,000 years ago. "It's an intimate window into the past", he said. It seemed as though people had made long and unsafe climbs to these clifftop caves mostly to create art. Rock art was made for a objective and we can see how people lived a long time ago in a way that archaeology can't provide.

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