View Full Version : Cave paintings change ideas about the origin of art

Jean M
10-08-2014, 08:17 PM

Scientists have identified some of the earliest cave paintings produced by humans. The artworks are in a rural area on the Indonesian Island of Sulawesi. Until now, paintings this old had been confirmed in caves only in Western Europe. Researchers tell the journal Nature that the Indonesian discovery transforms ideas about how humans first developed the ability to produce art. Australian and Indonesian scientists have dated layers of stalactite-like growths that have formed over coloured outlines of human hands. Early artists made them by carefully blowing paint around hands that were pressed tightly against the cave walls and ceilings. The oldest is at least 40,000 years old.

The Sulawesian and Spanish paintings look very similar, and they are both about the same age. For decades, the only evidence of ancient cave art was in Spain and southern France. It led some to believe that the creative explosion that led to the art and science we know today began in Europe. But the discovery of paintings of a similar age in Indonesia shatters this view, according to Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London. "It is a really important find; it enables us to get away from this Euro-centric view of a creative explosion that was special to Europe and did not develop in other parts of the world until much later," he said.

Jean M
10-09-2014, 10:43 PM
And here is the paper, located by Dienekes:

M. Aubert et al., Pleistocene cave art from Sulawesi, Indonesia, Nature 514, 223–227 (09 October 2014) http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature13422

Archaeologists have long been puzzled by the appearance in Europe ~40–35 thousand years (kyr) ago of a rich corpus of sophisticated artworks, including parietal art (that is, paintings, drawings and engravings on immobile rock surfaces) and portable art (for example, carved figurines), and the absence or scarcity of equivalent, well-dated evidence elsewhere, especially along early human migration routes in South Asia and the Far East, including Wallacea and Australia5, 6, 7, 8, where modern humans (Homo sapiens) were established by 50 kyr ago. Here, using uranium-series dating of coralloid speleothems directly associated with 12 human hand stencils and two figurative animal depictions from seven cave sites in the Maros karsts of Sulawesi, we show that rock art traditions on this Indonesian island are at least compatible in age with the oldest European art. The earliest dated image from Maros, with a minimum age of 39.9 kyr, is now the oldest known hand stencil in the world. In addition, a painting of a babirusa (‘pig-deer’) made at least 35.4 kyr ago is among the earliest dated figurative depictions worldwide, if not the earliest one. Among the implications, it can now be demonstrated that humans were producing rock art by ~40 kyr ago at opposite ends of the Pleistocene Eurasian world.

Jean M
11-26-2014, 04:06 PM
And another paper covering several sites: Paul S.C. Taçon, Noel Hidalgo Tan, Sue O'Connor, Ji Xueping, Li Gang, Darren Curnoe, David Bulbeck, Budianto Hakim, Iwan Sumantri, Heng Than, Im Sokrithy, Stephen Chia, Khuon Khun‑Neay and Soeung Kong, The global implications of the early surviving rock art of greater Southeast Asia, Antiquity, Volume: 88 Number: 342 Page: 1050–1064 http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/088/ant0881050.htm

The rock art of Southeast Asia has been less thoroughly studied than that of Europe or Australia, and it has generally been considered to be more recent in origin. New dating evidence from Mainland and Island Southeast Asia, however, demonstrates that the earliest motifs (hand stencils and naturalistic animals) are of late Pleistocene age and as early as those of Europe. The similar form of the earliest painted motifs in Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia suggests that they are the product of a shared underlying behaviour, but the difference in context (rockshelters) indicates that experiences in deep caves cannot have been their inspiration.


For over a decade, direct rock art dating has suggested some Southeast Asian rock art has its origins in the Pleistocene, with a minimum age of about 9900 years obtained for a hand stencil and a painted ‘blob’ at Gua Saleh, East Kalimantan, Borneo (Plagnes et al. 2003). At Lene Hara Cave, East Timor, an engraved human-like face near the cave entrance is bracketed by U-Th ages of 12 000 and 10 000 years (O’Connor et al. 2010). Also at Lene Hara, a pigment layer, possibly the remnant of an old painting, was sandwiched between layers of calcite dated to 24–29.3 ka (Aubert et al. 2007). Most recently, uranium-series dating of speleothems over and under 12 hand stencils and two naturalistic animal depictions from seven sites in the Maros area of Sulawesi has revealed much older ages. These dates also indicate that the early tradition of pigmented rock art persisted for at least 12 000 years in this area. The earliest minimum age for a hand stencil is 39.9 kyr at Leang Timpuseng and the oldest animal painting, of a babirusa ‘pig-deer’ at the same site, dates back to at least 35.4 kyr. A second animal painting (probably of a pig) at another site has a minimum age of 35.7 kyr but is potentially much older (Aubert et al. 2014). This challenges the view that figurative rock paintings and stencils first emerged in Europe and indicates that rock painting was practised in both Spain (El Castillo red disc geometric design; Pike et al. 2012) and Sulawesi (hand stencil; Aubert et al. 2014) at about 40 000 years ago.

11-27-2014, 01:47 AM
No one should have thought before this find that carvings and paintings began in Spain and France because that's where the earliest evidence of it is.