Is our rock art older than Europe’s?

The oldest scientifically dated hand stencil and rock painting of an animal
The oldest scientifically dated hand stencil and rock painting of an animal

PERAHU (Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit) has announced its discovery of the earliest minimum age for a hand stencil, found in the Maros region of Southern Sulawesi, Indonesia.

On October 9 2014, PERAHU’s Maxime Aubert and his Australian-Indonesian team published an earth-shattering paper in the prestigious journal Nature, which revealed that the world’s oldest hand stencil came not from Europe, but in fact from Indonesia.

At the rock art site of Leang Timpuseng, the hand stencil was found to be at least 39,900 years of age and at the same site the oldest animal painting (a babirusa “pig-deer”) dates back to at least 35,400 years.

This makes the stencils older than their counterparts in Europe, although in a Spanish cave a red disk has a minimum age of over 41,000 years.

Dates from other caves and rock shelters of Southern Sulawesi show that hand stencils were made over at least a 13,000 year time period.

The implication of this research is that the practice of making rock art and other symbolic creations began in Africa rather than in Europe and that modern humans arriving in Southeast Asia over 50,000 years ago and in Europe about 40-45,000 years ago, brought the practice with them.

The Eurocentric model of behavioural modernity is finally dead in the water!

With rock art that old just to the north of Australia ultimately means that it is possible we may have equally old rock art here too.

The challenge is to date what we think are the oldest images in the sandstone shelters of northern Australia, which is much more difficult to do than in limestone environments such as where the Sulawesi rock art was dated.

Maxime plans to do further work in Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia and will one day hopefully tell us the age of our oldest surviving rock art.

For more on this find, see:

Rock art discovery paints new human history

40,000 year old rock art found in Indonesia