Oldest cave art yet? Ancient paintings found in Borneo

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By Maggie Fox

The oldest figurative cave art may not belong to France or Spain, but to Borneo, researchers said Wednesday.

They found ancient hand prints, depictions of people dancing and a drawing of what appears to be a wild bovine dating back 20,000 to 50,000 years ago in a series of difficult-to-access caves on the island.

The stencils of the animals may be 40,000 or more years old, putting them in the running to be the oldest figurative artwork, the researchers reported in the journal Nature.

“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 and is now the earliest known figurative artwork,” Maxime Aubert of Australia’s Griffith University, who led the study team, said in a statement.

Human figures from East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo.
Human figures from East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. This style is dated to at least 13,600 years ago but could possibly date to the height of the last Glacial Maximum 20,000 years ago.Pindi Setiawan

Even if they are not the absolute record holders in terms of age, the images show that people across the world from one another were doing similar artwork in caves at the same time.

“It is now evident that rock art emerges in Borneo at around the same time as the earliest forms of artistic expression appear in Europe in association with the arrival of modern humans (45,000–43,000 years ago),” Aubert and colleagues wrote in their report.

The limestone caves are in a heavily forested part of Borneo’s Kalimantan province, in Indonesia. Archeologists have been exploring the difficult-to-reach caves, which had been known to be richly decorated by humans.


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