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The oldest known figurative rock art was discovered in a cave in Borneo

Since the 1990s, caves in the mountains of East Kalimantan, an Indonesian province of the island, have been known to contain prehistoric paintings, drawings and other imagery.

A painting of a beast on the wall of a limestone cave in Borneo may be the oldest known example of figurative rock art, say Wednesday researchers who dated the work. They concluded it is at least 40,000 years old. If the measurement is accurate the Borneo paintings may be 4,500 years older than depictions of animals that adorn cave walls on the neighbouring island of Sulawesi and thousands of years older than the oldest such paintings in Europe. The scientists came up with ages for the paintings by dating popcorn-like calcite crusts that often dot the walls of limestone caves. Faded and fractured, the reddish-orange image in the Borneo cave depicts a plump but slender-legged animal, probably a species of wild cattle that still lives on the island.

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“It is the oldest figurative cave painting in the world,” said Maxime Aubert, an archaeologist and geochemist at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia. “It’s amazing to see that. It’s an intimate window into the past.” There are lots of unexplored caves and possibly many of them with paintings inside. modern humans are not the only known cave artists. Cave art found in modern-day Spain was apparently made by Neanderthals 64,000 years ago, researchers reported earlier this year.

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