Deep in a cave on the island of Borneo and hidden in the jungle near the mountains of East Kalimantan, researchers have discovered what is purported to be the oldest known figurative painting in the world, after uncovering the 40,000-year-old painting in red ocher of an unknown animal.
As the BBC has reported, despite the fact that this long-legged animal cannot currently be identified, researchers suggest that it has much in common with a wild cow that is known as a banteng, which still dwells on Borneo even today.
The system of caves where the 40,000-year-old animal painting was found on Borneo was discovered to also contain an enormous amount of other prehistoric drawings and paintings that included animals, symbols, abstract signs, and hand stencils.
Professor Francesco d’Errico, who is an expert on prehistoric art from the University of Bordeaux in France, stated that the location where the painting was found is a “very large area with many paintings and many caves” and a “major archaeological discovery.”
Maxime Aubert, who works at Griffith University in Australia and is also the co-author of the new research on the oldest figurative painting in the world, explained that the Borneo painting may be even older than 40,000 years old, and that that is its absolute minimum age.
“The oldest cave art image we dated is a large painting of an unidentified animal, probably a species of wild cattle still found in the jungles of Borneo – this has a minimum age of around 40,000 years and is now the earliest known figurative artwork.”
The animal that was painted in the Borneo cave is depicted in a manner which makes it look as though a spear had been thrust straight into its flank. It is also believed to be part of a larger series of paintings, all of which were created by using some form of iron-oxide pigment. Out of all the paintings discovered in the cave system, it is these series of paintings which were found to represent the oldest figurative art.
To determine the age of the animal painting, Dr. Aubert tested calcium carbonate deposits that were found very close to it, while also dating hands that had been stenciled into the cave.
While the first two stenciled hands came up with an age of approximately 37,000-years-old, the third set that was tested was given a maximum age of 51,800 years, which by far surpasses the age of the Borneo animal painting. Researchers now believe that this style of rock art slowly evolved between 52,000 and 40,000 years ago.
The new study documenting the discovery of the oldest known figurative painting was published Wednesday in Nature.