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44,000 Year-Old Cave Painting in Indonesia Is World’s Oldest Figurative Art

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2019

A team of archaeologists has found a massive painting in a cave in Indonesia that uranium dating analysis shows to be around 43,900 years old, which they say is “currently the oldest pictorial record of storytelling and the earliest figurative artwork in the world”.

Indonesia Rock Art

Indonesia Rock Art

Cave painting was assumed to have originated in Europe, but these Indonesian paintings are thousands of years older. From an NPR piece on the discovery:

Genevieve von Petzinger, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Victoria, says the discoveries in her field are happening very quickly, thanks to newer technology such as the technique used to date the hunting scene. “I think the overall theme here really is that we’ve vastly underestimated the capacity of our ancestors,” she says.

She says the oldest cave paintings in Europe and Asia have common elements. And she thinks that even older paintings will eventually be found in the place where both groups originated from.

“Personally, I think that our ancestors already knew how to do art before they left Africa,” von Petzinger says.

Von Petzinger is the scientist behind one of the most intriguing things I learned this year, that the Stone Age symbols found in caves all over the world may be part of a single prehistoric writing system.