40,000 years ago, early humans were drawing in caves across the world. From Indonesia to Europe. That’s what a new study found this week.
The ramifications are huge. The origins of creativity in modern humans could be older than previously thought.
Archaeologists examined several stencils of hands and animal drawings in Sulawesi, located southeast of Borneo, Indonesia. They calculated the drawings were around 35,000 to 40,000 years old. One of the hand stencils was dated at least 39,900 years old, making it the oldest hand stencil ever discovered. It’s also close to the oldest rock art ever. That belongs to a painting on Spain’s El Castillo site. That painting has been dated at 40,800 years old.
How were scientists able to nail down a date? Scientists dated the small mineral growths that formed over some of the drawings to get a minimum date. Using a uranium decay technique, they were able to set a minimum date for the drawings.
Alistair Pike, an archaeologist not involved with the study, told Nature News this study hints at “just what a wealth of undiscovered information there is in Asia,” and that this study “will likely prompt a hunt.”
Maxime Aubert, leader of the team, touched on the impact of their work. “It allows us to move away from the view that Europe was special,” says Aubert. “There was some idea that early Europeans were more aware of themselves and their surroundings. Now we can say that’s not true.”
Aubert hopes more will be done to protect caves such as the Indonesian one. Designating it a World Heritage Site would be a good start. Something he hopes will happen following his team’s work there. Check out the video from Nature below to see more of the drawings.