At least 40,000 years ago, ancient humans made their way through the rugged landscape of Borneo, in Southeast Asia, to access a cave, hanging from a cliff and paint an animal on its roof. The creature represented there, traced with a brush impregnated with ochre-colored mineral pigment, has a swollen body and short legs. It appears to be a banteng, a species of wild cow still found on the island today. Its representation is, according to research published this Wednesday in the magazine Nature, the oldest cave painting in the world.
According to researchers from the Griffith University, in Australia, the finding shows that rock art, one of the most important innovations in human cultural history, did not emerge only in Europe as it was believed. At the same time, and even before, the so-called art of the Ice Age was also made at the opposite end of the world, in Southeast Asia.
The almost inaccessible caves of the remote mountains of East Kalimantan in the Indonesian province of Borneo were discovered in the 1990s. So far, thousands of representations of human hands, animals, signs, abstract symbols came to light. The team led by Maxime Aubert dated the painting of the banteng creature with the uranium method from calcium carbonate samples taken from the cave’s ceilings and walls.
The Oldest Cave Painting In The World Found In Borneo
The painting of the ancient cow turned out to be about 40,000 years old, making it the world’s oldest cave painting. In addition to the animal, in East Kalimantan, there are also representations of human hands.
The new finding suggests that the Palaeolithic tradition of rock art first appeared in Borneo between 52,000 and 40,000 years ago, at about the same time as Europe’s oldest known cave painting attributed to modern humans. Research also indicates that a significant change occurred in this culture 20,000 years ago when a new style involving bizarre representations of human beings.
“Who those artists were is unclear, but the most likely scenario is that they were Homo sapiens, ancient humans,” says Brumm. The meaning they gave to their paintings “is a great mystery that we don’t really know and may never solve. But the fact that many of them are in places that are difficult to access, where people don’t normally live, suggests a ‘ritual’ element in their creation,” he added.