Archaeologists now say they have found cave art dating to almost 50 thousand years ago.
Drawings in red ochre paint of warty pigs found in Leang Tedongnge Cave, on the Indonesian island Sulawesi, are now being hailed as the oldest animal art ever found. The discovery was made by a team of archaeologists from Griffith University’s Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution in Queensland.
Having the oldest cave art in the world can be a high stakes matter. When cave art found in 2015 in Sulawesi was dated to 35,000 to 40,000 years, it was temporarily enthroned as the oldest in the world, surpassing previous claims from Chauvet-Pont d’arc in France of between 20,000-24,000 years. Within a year, however, the French responded with another study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revisiting their previous data and determining that, indeed, Chauvet should be dated to as much as 37,000 years ago and restored as the antiquity champ. The consensus now, however, is that, tourism notwithstanding, cave art in Indonesia is much older than anything in Europe, albeit much less sophisticated. The anatomical detail and mastery of line seen at Chauvet and other European sites remains a truly unsurpassed mystery, and according to recent research, was a very long time in the making—maybe many thousands of years.
Archaeologist Dr. Alistair Pike at England’s Bristol University, believes the oldest cave art in Europe dates back 40,800 years, though he thinks it could have been the work of Neanderthals, rather than humans (https://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/15/science/new-dating-puts-cave-art-in-the-age-of-neanderthals.html).
By analyzing minute quantities of uranium and thorium in thin layers on top of the art in the Altamira caves of Spain and other locations, researchers have discovered that the works were 20,000 years in the making. In other words, after the initial painting, hundreds of generations of artists would for thousands of years continue to return and make changes and refinements, perhaps an indication of reverence from the people for the original images and their makers.
In research published by Britain’s Natural Environment Research Council, Pike stated that though some of the paintings in Spain were between 25,000 and 35,000 years old, “We have found that most of these caves were not painted in one go, but the painting spanned up to 20,000 years. It is probably the case that people did not live in the caves they painted. It seems the caves they lived in were elsewhere and there was something special about the painted caves” (https://www.southampton.ac.uk/news/2018/02/neanderthals-art.page)
The remarkable images in the European caves have long amazed and mystified most observers, with artistry equaling and even exceeding modern standards. Reconciling the level of artistic achievement found in the cave art of places like Lascaux, Chauvet, Altamira, and others with conventional theories attributing the work to primitives (ie., cavemen) when it is officially doubted that humans of the time were even capable of symbolic thought, is difficult, to say the least. The go-to explanation, that somehow extraordinary individuals broke through the primitive darkness to produce the masterpieces that we find, seems a bit far fetched. The suggestion made by some that the advanced cave art was created during the twilight, not the dawn, of some lost civilization seems easier to believe.
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