The oldest representational art in the world, found in Southeast Asia

Rock art from Sulawesi. Source: Smithsonian 201601

The Smithsonian Magazine’s feature on the rock art of Sulawesi, which was discovered to be as old as some of the palaeolithic paintings from archaeology.

Rock art from Sulawesi. Source: Smithsonian 201601
Rock art from Sulawesi. Source: Smithsonian 201601

A Journey to the Oldest Cave Paintings in the World
Smithsonian, January 2016

This ghostly babirusa has been known to locals for decades, but it wasn’t until Aubert, a geochemist and archaeologist, used a technique he developed to date the painting that its importance was revealed. He found that it is staggeringly ancient: at least 35,400 years old. That likely makes it the oldest-known example of figurative art anywhere in the world—the world’s very first picture.

It’s among more than a dozen other dated cave paintings on Sulawesi that now rival the earliest cave art in Spain and France, long believed to be the oldest on earth.

The findings made headlines around the world when Aubert and his colleagues announced them in late 2014, and the implications are revolutionary. They smash our most common ideas about the origins of art and force us to embrace a far richer picture of how and where our species first awoke.

Hidden away in a damp cave on the “other” side of the world, this curly-tailed creature is our closest link yet to the moment when the human mind, with its unique capacity for imagination and symbolism, switched on.

Full story here.

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

2 thoughts on “The oldest representational art in the world, found in Southeast Asia”

  1. Interesting that this Sulawesi art might now be much older than previously thought. Hope more info will be published in due course.

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