Cave paintings in Indonesia have been dated from 30,000 to over 40,000 years old, making them some of the oldest artwork in existence.
“It has just been announced that cave paintings in Maros have now been dated as being about 40,000 years old. Dr Maxime Aubert, of Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, said that the minimum age for the outline of a hand was 39,900 years old, which made it “the oldest hand stencil in the world” and added, “Next to it is a pig that has a minimum age of 35,400 years old, and this is one of the oldest figurative depictions in the world, if not the oldest one.”
The paintings are in caves in Sulawesi (formerly known as Celebes, in Indonesia. It is the 11th largest island in the world, originally formed by the collision of the Asian and Australian tectonic plates. Sulawesi is believed to be part of the land bridge via which Australia and New Guinea were settled more than 40,000 years ago.
The thing that makes the revised dating of these artworks of particular interest is the fact that they include figurative representations of animals. This indicates perceptual and intellectual developments in the artists which enables them to interpret their world creatively and express their interpretation through the medium of art.
Similar images as old as these have up to now only been found in Western Europe. It has been presumed that early humans migrated from Africa across the still-linked continents, to inhabit Europe and only developed these skills once they had settled in the new continent. The discovery and dating of the images in the Sulawesi Caves will inspire a re-evaluation of how, where and why the ability for abstract thought and figurative artistic expression developed.