This contradicts the old belief that cave painting originated in Europe. Instead, it began in Southeast Asia during the last Ice Age.
Cave Paintings In Borneo
Scientists have known about the cave art in the remote mountains of East Kalimantan in Borneo since the 90s. It contained prehistoric images of humans hands, abstract signs and symbols, and animals.
However, they did not know when exactly the illustrations had been made until recently. Researchers from Griffith University collected calcium-carbonate samples from the cave art to provide an approximation of when the cave paintings were created.
"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 — this has a minimum age of around 40,000 years and is now the earliest known figurative artwork," explained Maxime Aubert, an author of the study.
Prior to the study, the oldest known animal painting in the world was a "pig-deer" called babirusa, which was found on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. It was dated approximately 35,400 years old.
This painting in the caves of Kalimantan, now believed to be the oldest in the world, depicts a wild cattle that once walked the jungles of Borneo. Whoever made the painting remains a mystery to scientists.
"Who the ice age artists of Borneo were and what happened to them is a mystery," said Adam Brumm, an archeologist who is also involved in the study.
History Of Cave Paintings
The cave paintings also revealed that there was a major shift in the tradition of cave paintings thousands of year ago. Around 20,000 years ago, a new style of art emerged: a depiction of humans. Artists, at the time, started to use dark purple color to make hand stencils and human-like figures.
The researchers believe that the tradition of cave paintings started from Borneo, reached Sulawesi, and then spread throughout Eurasia. Aubert added that the art perhaps came with the first people to colonize Australia.
The findings were published in the journal Nature.