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Cave paintings (stencils) found in Indonesia from approx 40 kya prompt new approach to origin of artwork

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They turned out to be much older than anyone expected, contemporary with European cave paintings. However, they are stencils, rather than sculptures or Lascaux-style paintings, suggesting independent traditions.

Was there a great flourishing of creativity at that time, similar to a cultural movement around 3000–1000 BC? What factor ties the independent traditions together?

From Nature:

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)1, 2 and portable art (for example, carved figurines)3, 4, 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 ago9, 10. 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 art11. 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.

Here’s the abstract:

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)1, 2 and portable art (for example, carved figurines)3, 4, 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 ago9, 10. 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 art11. 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. Aubert, M. et al. (2014). Pleistocene cave art from Sulawesi, Indonesia. Nature, 514, 223-227. (You have to pay to read the article.)

See also:

The search for our earliest ancestors: signals in the noise

Early human religion: A 747 built in the basement with an X-Acto knife

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One Reply to “Cave paintings (stencils) found in Indonesia from approx 40 kya prompt new approach to origin of artwork

  1. 1
    mahuna says:

    Note that the techniques used in European cave paintings, specifically the stenciling of hands, is the same technique used in Australia. (pigment chewed in the mouth and “spray painted” by spitting) So, the technique was known before humans split east and west. What we’re missing apparently are paintings from more than 50,000 years ago. The alternative is that there was communications (by boat?) between Europe and the Pacific islands.

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