Oldest known animal drawing found in remote Indonesian cave

Oldest known animal drawing found in remote Indonesian cave

WASHINGTON - AP
Oldest known animal drawing found in remote Indonesian cave

Scientists have found the oldest known example of an animal drawing: a red silhouette of a bull-like beast on the wall of a remote Indonesian cave.

The sketch is at least 40,000 years old, slightly older than similar animal paintings found in famous caves in France and Spain. Until a few years ago, experts believed Europe was where our ancestors started drawing animals and other figures. But the age of the drawing reported Nov. 7 in the journal Nature, along with previous discoveries in Southeast Asia, suggest that figurative drawing appeared in both continents about the same time.

The new findings fuel discussions about whether historical or evolutionary events prompted this near-simultaneous "burst of human creativity," said lead author Maxime Aubert, an archaeologist and geochemist at Griffith University in Australia.

The remote limestones caves on Borneo have been known to contain prehistoric drawings since the 1990s. To reach them, Aubert and his team used machetes to hack through thick jungle in a verdant corner of the island.

"Most of the paintings we actually can't sample," said Aubert.

Aubert and his fellow researchers reported in 2014 on cave art from the neighboring Indonesian island of Sulawesi. They dated hand stencils, created by blowing red dye through a tube to capture the outline of a hand pressed against rock, to almost 40,000 years ago.

Now, with the Borneo cave art, the scientists are able to construct a rough timeline of how art developed in the area. In addition to the bull, which is about 1.5 meters wide, they dated red- and purple-colored hand stencils and cave paintings of human scenes.

After large animal drawings and stencils, "It seems the focus shifted to showing the human world," Aubert said.

Around 14,000 years ago, the cave-dwellers began to regularly sketch human figures doing things like dancing and hunting, often wearing large headdresses. A similar transition in rock art subjects happened in the caves of Europe.

ancient, animal drawing, Indonesia, cave, Borneo