Wednesday, November 14, 2018


Panel from Borneo cave,
handprints at top right,
banteng at lower left.

As more and more discoveries are made around the world it becomes increasingly obvious that the only thing special about the cave art in Europe is that it has been studied much more than elsewhere. Increasing attention to rock art in other parts of the world are now challenging all previous assumptions about who, what, and where was first. In other words our cultural-centric biases are showing.

"A 40,000-year-old painting of a mysterious, wild cow-like beast discovered in a Borneo cave is the oldest human-made drawing of an animal on record. The discovery indicates that figurative cave art - one of the most significant innovations in human culture - didn't begin in Europe as many scientists thought, but rather in Southeast Asia during the last ice age." (Geggel 2018)

"Previously, the oldest known animal painting in the world was an approximately 35,400-year-old babirusa, or "pig-deer," on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi." (Geggel 2018)

Banteng on panel from Borneo cave,

"A limestone cave in eastern Borneo features a reddish-orange painting of a horned animal, possibly a type of wild cattle that may have been found on the island at the time. The painting dates to at least 40,000 years ago, concludes a team led by archaeologist Maxime Aubert of Griffith University in Southport, Australia. This creature represents the oldest known example of a painted figure anywhere in the world the scientists report online November 7 in Nature." (Bower 2018)

Male banteng,., 
public domain.

A species of wild cow known as the banteng (Bos javanicus) still lives in the forests of Borneo and this image might represent the banteng, or an unknown prehistoric relative. In the banteng the horns are considerably larger on the male, as seen in this cave painting.

"The same cave walls contain two hand outlines framed in reddish orange pigment that were made at least 37,200 years ago, and a similar hand stencil with a maximum age of 51,800 years. Age estimates rest on analyses of uranium in mineral deposits that had formed over and underneath parts of each cave painting. Scientists used known decay rates of radioactive uranium in these deposits to calculate maximum and minimum dates for the paintings." (Bower 2018)

"The researchers collected calcium-carbonate samples from the Kalimantan cave drawings so they could do uranium-series dating - a technique made possible by radioactive decay. When rainwater seeps through limestone, it dissolves a small amount of uranium, Aubert told Live Science. As uranium decays, it turns into the element thorium. By studying the ratio of uranium to thorium in the calcium carbonate that is coating the cave art, researchers determined how old the initial coating was, he said." (Geggel 2018)

This is a good hard dating for these images, something not always available for rock art.

Handprints from Borneo cave,
red-orange are earlier, the
darker ones are later.

"The team proposed that the prehistoric artworks can be divided into at least two chronologically distinct phases of art production. The first phase is characterized by hand stencils and large figurative paintings of animals that are reddish-orange in colour." (Brumm 2018)

"Hand stencils also characterize the later phase, but these stencils (and associated images) tend to be dark purple ("mulberry") in colour." (Brumm 2018)

The recently dated images from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, and now these even earlier dates, should put to rest our old assumptions of cultural imperialism. Just because the rock art in Europe was found first, and studied the most extensively, does not mean that the Paleolithic Europeans were culturally more advanced. Indeed, with these new dates from the other side of the world it looks like we have some catching up to do.

NOTE: Some images in this posting were retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on these reports you should read the originals at the sites listed below.


Bower, Bruce,
2018 Like Europe, Borneo Hosted Stone Age Cave Artists, November 7, 2018,

Brumm, Adam,
2018 Borneo Cave Discovery: Is the World's Oldest Rock Art in Southeast Asia?, November 8, 2018,

Geggel, Laura,
2018 World's Oldest Animal Drawing, Discovered in Borneo Cave, Is a Weird       Cow Beast, November 7, 2018, oldest-figurative-cave-art.html

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