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Trending Science: Oldest rock art discovered in Indonesian jungle

Scientists claim that an animal image found in a Borneo cave is the oldest known example of a painted figure anywhere in the world.
Trending Science: Oldest rock art discovered in Indonesian jungle
According to a paper in the journal ‘Nature’, a faint drawing of an unknown animal on a cave wall in a remote Borneo jungle is the world’s first figurative art. It represents one more key milestone in prehistoric art, and yet another intriguing peek into the creativity of ancient societies.

“It is the oldest figurative cave painting in the world,” study lead author Maxime Aubert, an archaeologist and geochemist at Griffith University in Australia, told the British newspaper ‘The Guardian’. “It’s amazing to see that. It’s an intimate window into the past.”

In another interview with the ‘BBC’, Dr Aubert, who dated the art with his team, added: “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.” It’s at least 5 000 years older than the previous record holder for figurative cave paintings from the nearby Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

Rock art first focused on large animal paintings. If the painting was made about 40 000 years ago, it predates famous depictions of animals found on European caves. “It looks like there was a transition from depicting the animal world to [depicting] the human world. And it’s interesting because I think we have the same thing in Europe.”

Cattle-like animal first-ever depiction of real-life image

It’s probably a species of wild cattle, but the researchers aren’t certain. To date the 40 000-year-old art, the team used scientific dating methods on calcium carbonate deposits close to the image.

The oldest drawing in the world is a 73 000-year-old crosshatch found in a South African cave. The oldest art in Europe is an abstract symbol of red lines and a hand stencil made by Neanderthals about 65 000 years ago. However, these designs are simpler than figurative art, where real objects are depicted rather than abstract shapes. This makes the Borneo discovery particularly significant.

Dr Aubert and his team also dated hand stencils from various time periods found on the walls. The oldest may date back up to 52 000 years, easily among the oldest such prints in the world.

The limestone caves of the mountainous East Kalimantan province of Borneo where the drawing was discovered contain thousands of other prehistoric paintings and drawings, as well as hand stencils, animals, abstract signs and symbols. When these paintings were created is still a mystery.

The area of Borneo where this system of caves is located remains relatively unexplored. There could be many other examples waiting to be found. Dr Aubert will be back there in 2019 to carry out more archaeological investigations that might transform our understanding of the origins of art.

Source: Based on media reports

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