Ancient cave drawings in Indonesia are as old as famous prehistoric art in Europe, according to a new study that shows our ancestors were drawing all over the world 40,000 years ago.
And it hints at an even earlier dawn of creativity in modern humans than scientists had thought.
Archaeologists calculated that a dozen stencils of hands in mulberry red and two detailed drawings of an animal described as a “pig-deer” are between 35,000 to 40,000 years old, based on levels of decay of the element uranium. That puts the art found in Sulawesi, southeast of Borneo, in the same rough time period asdrawings found in Spain and a famous cave in France.
And one of the Indonesian handprints, pegged as at least 39,900 years old, is now the oldest hand stencil known to science, according to a new study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
These are more than 100 Indonesian cave drawings that have been known since 1950. In 2011, scientists noticed some strange outcroppings — called “cavepopcorn” — on the drawings. Those mineral deposits would make it possible to use the new technology of uranium decay dating to figure out how old the art is. So they tested the cave popcorn that had grown over the stencils that would give a minimum age. It was near 40,000 years.