Oldest Figurative Painting Depicts Wild Cow

Recent research shows artwork to be at least 40,000 years old
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 7, 2018 6:47 PM CST
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This composite image from the book "Borneo, Memory of the Caves" shows the world's oldest figurative artwork, dated to a minimum of 40,000 years.   (Luc-Henri Fage/kalimanthrope.com via AP)

(Newser) – A wild cow that wandered what is now Indonesian Borneo tens of thousands of years ago is the subject of what is believed to the the oldest figurative painting ever found. The image was discovered in the 1990s in a network of limestone caves on the eastern edge of the island, NPR reports. And, recently, researchers used dating technology to determine the painting to be at least 40,000 years old—older than similar paintings in Europe by more than 4,000 years, per Science. Rather than being simply an “abstract design,” as older cave paintings are, figurative paintings like the cow portrait are “clearly like someone decided to depict what they saw,” says Australian archaeologist Maxime Aubert, who published his team’s “amazing” findings in Nature.

“The meaning of the animal is unknown,” Aubert says, per USA Today, “We think it wasn’t just food for them. It meant something special.” The cave where the cow image was discovered is a “vast and ancient gallery,” says National Geographic. The prehistoric artwork includes other animal renderings, paintings of stick figure humans with headdresses and spears, and stencils of human hands made by blowing liquid ochre over a hand pressed against rock, the earliest of which are more than 50,000 years old. According to Aubert, ancient artists added new images to the cave over a span of 30,000 years. (Some ancient artists were high when they created their abstract paintings.)

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