Can you draw better than a 40,000 year old?
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What can be learned from ancient cave drawings? Some found in Indonesia have turned out to be pretty special. They are as old as famous prehistoric art in Europe.
The news comes from a new study. It could mean humans were creative earlier than scientists had thought.
The art was found in Sulawesi. That's southwest of Borneo. The art has been known since 1950. It is between 35,000 and 40,000 years old. New technology determined the age of the art. That technology wasn't available in 1950. The drawings are a dozen stencils of hands in mulberry red and two detailed drawings of an animal described as a "pig-deer."
That puts the art found in Sulawesi in the same rough time period as drawings found in Spain and a famous cave in France.
One of the Indonesian handprints is at least 39,900 years old. That makes it the oldest hand stencil known to science. That's according to a study published in the journal Nature.
"Whoa, it was not expected," said the study's lead author, Maxime Aubert. She works at Griffith University in Australia.
The details on the animal drawings are "really, really well-made," Aubert said. "Then when you look at it in context that it's really 40,000 years old, it's amazing."
Scientist John Shea of Stony Brook University in New York called this an important discovery. It changes what science thought about early humans and art, he said. He did not take part in the study.
Knowing when art started is important, Aubert said. "It kind of defines us as a species," he said.
The European and Asian art are essentially the same age. That means art may have developed separately and at roughly the same time in different parts of the world. Or it's "more likely, that when humans left Africa 65,000 years ago, they were already evolved with the capacity to make paintings," Aubert said.
Ancient art hasn't been found much in Africa. The geology doesn't preserve it.
Shea and others lean toward the earlier art theory.