Asia Minute: Indonesian Cave Paintings Stun Scientists and Art Historians

Nov 8, 2018

Hands at the Cuevas de las Manos upon Río Pinturas, near the town of Perito Moreno in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. Picture taken in 2005
Credit Mariano / Wikimedia Commons

The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers is working to help preserve a series of ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs at Pōka‘ī Bay on the west side of O‘ahu. Other drawings in caves and on rocks have been found all over the world. But a new discovery announced this week in Indonesia is capturing attention not only from the archeologists, but also in the world of art.

Archeologists say they’ve found the oldest cave paintings of animals in the world.

They’re in Southeast Asia on the walls of limestone caverns on the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo. There’s one in particular that shows a large red animal believed to be a species of wild cattle that’s still found in parts of Southeast Asia.

Scientists using sophisticated dating techniques say that painting is at least 40,000 years old.

That means it was created at least 5,000 years earlier than animal likenesses in caves in France, and on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Up to now, those were thought to be the oldest examples of this kind of art in the world.

Researchers involved in the work say that this painting is one of thousands of images of varying ages that are in a series of caves — including hand stencils and symbols.

They’re in the province of Kalimantan on the eastern part of Borneo — home to thick jungles and dense vegetation.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation quoted an archeologist working on the project as saying

“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.”

The latest findings were published this week in the journal Nature.