sign in a cave in Laos

9 October 2014

Sulawesi cave paintings now older than first thought

Exciting news about the age of the cave paintings at Maros in Sulawesi, Indonesia. They are now said to be older than first thought.

I saw some of these paintings in 1994. My blog on Cave of Hands and an article I wrote for The Star.

The paintings at Leang Burung 2 were originally dated by Glover to between c.31,000-20,000 BP. The paintings are quite well known and include red ochre hand stencils and paintings of animals such as babirusa - an endemic wild suid [Encyclopedia of Caves and Karst Science, 2004].

Now Dr Maxime Aubert of Griffith University, Queensland, Australia has redated the paintings. The oldest is at least 40,000 years old. The minimum age for the hand stencil is 39,999 years old, which makes it the oldest hand stencil in the world. The babirusa or pig has a minimum age of 35,400 years. Other paintings are 27,000 years old, which means the inhabitants were painting for at least 13,000 years.

Until now, paintings this age have only been known from caves in Western Europe.

These new dates for the Sulawesi caves mean that ideas about our evolution will have to be revised. Maybe art came out of Africa, not from Europe.

In northern Spain, cave paintings at El Castillo have been dated at 37,300 years old (41K). They are similiar to the ones at Bone, which is 100 km north of Maros. The famous paintings of animals at Chauvet Cave in France are about 37,000 years old. Some Australian rock art is thought to be of a similiar age but the dates are not confirmed. The oldest confirmed Australian rock painting is 27,000 years old at the Arnhem Land site of Nawarla.

The Maros ages were determined by measuring ratios of isotopes of uranium and thorium in tiny stalactites that had formed on top of the paintings.

The paintings at Bone could not be dated because the stalactite growths do not occur.

The scientific paper was published in Nature 514, 9 Oct 2014.

Other refs :


BBC    (it is worth watching the video on this link)

 Australian Geographic

The Guardian 

National Geographic

© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

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