The figurative painting is of wild cattle, part of a large panel with three large animal paintings. Homo sapiens left Africa between about 70,000 and 60,000 years ago, and "once they spread out across Eurasia, they developed, after about 40,000 years ago, the desire (or ability) to produce figurative art", Christopher Henshilwood, director of the Centre for Early Sapiens Behaviour at the University of Bergen in Norway, who wasn't involved with the study, told in an email. This particular style of hand stencildates to the height of the Last Glacial Maximum about 20,000 years ago. Image credits: Pindi Setiawan.
The Borneo paintings where found inside several secluded caves that are located in the East Kalimantan province. Until now, the paintings haven't received much study due to the remote and treacherous location of the caves. Other drawings in caves and on rocks have been found all over the world. Few sites in the region have been excavated and studies remain logistically hard. Years have passed since its discovery, but the most recent research involving it sheds light on just how old some of these markings are. Instead of depicting animals, artists began to paint humans, intricate motifs and hand stencils using mulberry-colored pigment. It was perhaps around this time that a new type of art made an appearance in the cave - human stick figures, boats and geometric shapes, painted in black pigment.
This is a radiometric dating technique to determine the age of calcium carbonate materials. Uranium decays over time, creating the element thorium, and measuring the ratio of one element to the other reveals the age of the coating, Aubert said.
"Radiocarbon dating is usually used to date the pigment layer itself", Aubert said. "It's been applied in France for example to date the charcoal drawings in Chauvet cave".
The worlds oldest figurative artwork, which was discovered in Borneo, is at least 40,000 years old.
"We know that modern humans arrived around 40-thousand years ago in Europe, but they were in Southeast Asia at least 20-thousand years before that-and also in Australia". This coincided with the most extreme period of the ice age, though it's not clear if the two events are connected.
The researchers aren't certain what animal it represents, but their hunch is that it's a banteng, a type of wild cow that lives in the area today.
Human figures from East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo.
It is considerably older than a 35,400-year-old pig-deer painting discovered by the same team a few years ago in a cave located on Sulawesi, another island in Indonesia.
This discovery adds to the mounting view that the first cave art traditions did not arise in Europe, as long believed.
"Who the ice age artists of Borneo were and what happened to them is a mystery", said team co-leader Dr. Pindi Setiawan, an Indonesian archaeologist and lecturer at ITB.
"The art was discovered in the 1990s".
Rock art expert Adhi Agus Oktaviana, another author of the study, said that "the new findings illustrate that the story of how cave art emerged is complex".
"Rock art provides an intimate window into the past", Aubert said. While no archaeological digs have been carried out quite yet, digs are indeed planned for next year.
It dates back to between 40,000 and 52,000 years ago, during the Upper Palaeolithic and the last ice age - at least 5,000 years older than the previous record-holder for figurative cave paintings, from the nearby Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
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