The drawing is even older than the famous images of animals found in France and Spain. It was spotted in a remote cave by a team of archaeologists from Australia and Indonesia.
“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,” said study lead author Maxime Aubert, an archaeologist and geochemist at Griffith University in Australia, in a statement. “It is now the earliest known figurative artwork.”
The painting is known to represent animals but the meaning of the animal is unknown as it doesn’t look familiar to any particular species. Maxime Aubert said “We think it wasn’t just food for them – it meant something special.” And apart from the 5 feet wide animal drawings found in the cave, scientists also discovered red and purple-coloured hand stencils and cave paintings of human scenes. These remote caves on Borneo have been known to contain prehistoric drawings since the 1990s.
This finding adds to the mounting view that cave art – one of the most important innovations in human cultural history – Humans began to create art in caves at a similar time in remote corners of the Ice Age world, the researchers said.
“Whether this is a coincidence, the result of cultural convergence in widely separated regions, large-scale migrations of a distinct Eurasian population, or another cause remains unknown,” the study said.
Rock art expert Adhi Agus Oktaviana, another author of the study, said that “the new findings illustrate that the story of how cave art emerged is complex.”
However, “who the ice age artists of Borneo were and what happened to them is a mystery,” noted study co-author Pindi Setiawan, an Indonesian archaeologist.
The study was published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature.