Cave art from mountains of Borneo believed to be among world's oldest

Source: Xinhua| 2018-11-08 13:51:53|Editor: Shi Yinglun
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SYDNEY, Nov. 8 (Xinhua) -- Cave art in the remote mountains of Borneo has revealed them to be among the oldest figurative examples in the world and suggests that one of the most important innovations in human cultural history did not arise in Europe as long believed.

Research published on Thursday by academics from Australia's Griffith University (GU), along with colleagues from Indonesia's National Research Center for Archaeology (ARKENAS), and the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), revealed images of animals, human hand stencils, as well as other abstract signs and symbols, to be as old as 40,000 years.

To arrive at their results the team conducted Uranium-series dating on overlying calcium carbonate deposits which had formed on the paintings.

"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," lead author, associate professor Maxime Aubert from GU said.

The timeline places the artistic activity at the height of Earth's last ice age, when what is currently the world's third largest island and modern day Borneo, sat on the eastern extremity of a 13,000 km-wide Eurasian landmass, which extended all the way to Europe on the other side.

Little is known about who these ice age artists were or what happened to them, although GU archeologist Professor Adam Brumm told Xinhua that their apparent interest in creating permanent images suggests a culture focussed somewhat on the symbolic.

"Some of the caves with this ancient art are located in very difficult to reach mountain top settings -- we don't see any evidence that people were actually living in these caves," Brumm said.

"For whatever reason they had some sort of symbolic ritual motivation for creating some of this art in these remote places so that informs us a little bit about some of the values and ideas of these people."

Previously, Europe was considered the center for cave art development although a number of recent discoveries are challenging those conceptions of prehistory.

"It now seems that two early cave art provinces arose at a similar time in remote corners of Paleolithic Eurasia -- one in Europe, and one in Indonesia at the opposite end of this ice age world," Brumm said, noting that there are similarities in the styles from different regions which are difficult to overlook.

"A focus on hand stencils and the focus on large naturalistic paintings of certain animal species within the environment, and finding that on essentially opposite sides of the inhabited ice world 40,000 years ago is certainly interesting."