Archaeologists recently matched a date to the perfect hand stencil discovered on the wall of a cave in Indonesia roughly half a century ago. The painting is at least 40,000 years old, researchers claim in a study published this week in the journal Nature.
On the same wall, just inches from the hand stencil, are large painted animal figures -- babirusas, native pig-like animals, and a type of Asian buffalo. Other nearby caves boast similar illustrations. Turns out, these pictures are the oldest cave paintings in the world.
The adorned cave is located on Sulawesi, a large island in Indonesia's archipelago. There are 90 separate caves, known as the Maros cave sites, with ancient art inside them. The discovery greatly expands the range of late Ice Age rock art. Scientists previously thought such primitive depictions were relegated to Europe; but no more.
It's now clear human populations were splashing pigment onto cave walls at roughly the same time in very different locations. And remarkably, the paintings found in both Europe and Asia look strangely similar -- both depicting large mammals in comparable styles.
"It is often assumed that Europe was the center of the earliest explosion in human creativity, especially cave art, about 40 thousand years ago," study co-leader Maxime Aubert, an archaeologists and dating expert at Griffith University, said in a press release. "But our rock art dates from Sulawesi show that at around the same time on the other side of the world people were making pictures of animals as remarkable as those in the Ice Age caves of France and Spain."
The new paintings, found at the Maros cave sites in Indonesia, suggest artistic expression likely predates the arrival of humans in Europe. The original exodus of modern humans out of Africa and across the globe started some 60,000 or more years ago. Because the first humans out of Africa settled Asia and Australia prior to Europe, it's possible even older art will be found not far from the Maros sites.