40,000-year-old cave art discovered in Indonesia—raising questions on ‘prehistoric humankind’

Cave art that exceeds the known history of our present human civilization has been found in various countries. Here we examine some that date back some 40,000 years ago in Indonesia.

©YouTube screenshot | Tohari Achmad

Whilst the Chinese have one of the oldest recorded civilizations on the planet, being 5,000 years old, scientists have dated these art works in Sulawesi, Indonesia, to be around 40,000 years old.

©YouTube screenshot | Alcibbum Photography

These paintings have been known for decades, but only in recent years has their age been determined.

©YouTube screenshot | Alcibbum Photography

The findings in Sulawesi are fascinating, and in some ways revolutionizing.

©YouTube screenshot | Alcibbum Photography

Until the discovery in Indonesia was made public, scientists believed that the oldest paintings made by humans were mostly in Europe, which have also been dated to be around 40,000 years old.

At present, the oldest cave art known to humankind is located in the El Castillo cave in Cantabria, Spain, being 40,800 years old.

©YouTube screenshot | Alcibbum Photography

The Sulawesi cave art in Indonesia was first discovered in the 1950s and was initially presumed to be no more than 10,000 years old because scientists didn’t believe that anything older could survive in a tropical climate.

©YouTube screenshot | Alcibbum Photography

But a more recent study revealed some of the artwork in the cave to be at least 39,900 years old.

©YouTube screenshot | Alcibbum Photography

In order to date these cave paintings, scientists use a method of measuring the radioactive isotopes in small stalactite-like growths, known as “cave popcorn,” that form over the art.

©YouTube screenshot | Tohari Achmad

The findings in Sulawesi challenge the initial understanding that cave art originated in Europe.

©YouTube screenshot | Tohari Achmad

In fact, cave art that predates known history can be found in France, Spain, India, Indonesia, South Africa, Southeast Algeria, the Libyan desert, Argentina, and Somaliland.

©YouTube screenshot | Tohari Achmad

“Our discovery on Sulawesi shows that cave art was made at opposite ends of the Pleistocene Eurasian world at about the same time, suggesting these practices have deeper origins,” said Dr. Maxime Aubert, an archaeologist at the University of Wollongong in Australia.

©YouTube screenshot | Tohari Achmad

Archaeologist Alistair Pike of the University of Southampton in the U.K. stated, “We’ve been shown here that our views have been too ‘Euro-centric’ about the origins of cave painting. Absolutely this changes our views, and is going to make us ask a lot of questions about the causes rather than the origins of cave art.”

©YouTube Screenshot | nature video

There are also paintings in La Marche in France, which are dated to be over 14,000 years old. Whilst they’re not as old as those found in Sulawesi, what’s amazing about the cave art found in La Marche is that the humans depicted are wearing robes, hats, and boots. This reveals to us that these people knew how to make and weave cloth.

©YouTube screenshot | Tohari Achmad

In terms of the artwork found in Sulawesi, taking the image above as an example, we can see some sort of boat. This indicates that these people may have been seafarers thousands of years ago.

©YouTube screenshot | Alcibbum Photography

All these discoveries allow us to better understand early humankind prior to when civilizations started recording their history.

Check out the video below for more on the cave art in Sulawesi:

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