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This Cave Art May Be a Game Changer

Depiction of hunt in Indonesia could date back 44K years, the oldest one yet
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 12, 2019 11:21 AM CST
The ancient art depicts a hunting scene.   (Griffith University/YouTube)

(Newser) – The history of art just got an update. A large cave drawing in Indonesia has been dated back 44,000 years, which would make it the oldest known cave art in existence. But that date would also make it "the oldest pictorial record of storytelling and the earliest figurative artwork in the world," say scientists from Australia's Griffith University in Nature. The drawing, about 16 feet wide, appears to depict a hunting scene, but there's a twist, reports the BBC. Some of the hunters are part human and part animal, with one sporting a beak and another a tail, per the New York Times. Whether the work is related to religious or supernatural beliefs is open to interpretation, but the drawing in Sulawesi shows that the artist or artists were making a leap beyond the known world.

"We can't know if it has anything to do with spirituality, but at least we can say that those artists were capable of the sorts of conceptualizations that we need in order to believe in religion, to believe in the existence of the supernatural," says the university's Adam Brumm, per NPR. The drawing predates human-animal figures found in a German cave by 4,000 years and further upends the notion that such figurative painting originated in Europe roughly 40,000 years ago. A caveat: Only the animals in the painting have been dated definitively (by testing mineral deposits on the scene), making it possible that the human-animal figures were added later. However, another Griffith researcher notes that these figures have the same color tone and preservation level as the animals. (Read more cave paintings stories.)

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