Study: Asian cave drawings as old as European ones

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Study: Asian cave drawings as old as European ones
This undated handout photo provided by Nature Magazine shows stencils of hands in a cave in Indonesia. Ancient cave drawings in Indonesia are as old as famous prehistoric art in Europe, according to a new study that shows our ancestors were drawing all over the world 40,000 years ago. And it hints at an even earlier dawn of creativity in modern humans, going back to Africa, than scientists had thought. (AP Photo/Kinez Riza, Nature Magazine)
This undated photo provided Monday June 23, 2014 by the French Ministry of Culture shows a drawing in the Cave of Pont d’Arc, southern France. Drawings of mammoths, human footprints and other art carved on cave walls in southern France about 30,000 years ago have been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. The U.N. cultural agency says that the Decorated Cave of Pont d’Arc contains the best preserved figurative drawings in the world. The drawings were unexpectedly discovered in 1994 by researcher Jean-Marie Chauvet. (AP Photo/DRAC Rhone-Alpes, Ministere de la Culture)
This undated photo provided Monday June 23, 2014 by the French Ministry of Culture shows a handprint in the Cave of Pont d’Arc, southern France. Drawings of mammoths, human footprints and other art carved on cave walls in southern France about 30,000 years ago have been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. The U.N. cultural agency says that the Decorated Cave of Pont d’Arc contains the best preserved figurative drawings in the world. The drawings were unexpectedly discovered in 1994 by researcher Jean-Marie Chauvet. (AP Photo/DRAC Rhone-Alpes, Ministere de la Culture)
This undated photo provided Monday June 23, 2014 by the French Ministry of Culture shows a detail of the Cave of Pont d’Arc, southern France. Drawings of mammoths, human footprints and other art carved on cave walls in southern France about 30,000 years ago have been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. The U.N. cultural agency says that the Decorated Cave of Pont d’Arc contains the best preserved figurative drawings in the world. The drawings were unexpectedly discovered in 1994 by researcher Jean-Marie Chauvet. (AP Photo/DRAC Rhone-Alpes, Ministere de la Culture)
This undated photo provided Monday June 23, 2014 by the French Ministry of Culture shows a detail of the Cave of Pont d’Arc, southern France. Drawings of mammoths, human footprints and other art carved on cave walls in southern France about 30,000 years ago have been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. The U.N. cultural agency says that the Decorated Cave of Pont d’Arc contains the best preserved figurative drawings in the world. The drawings were unexpectedly discovered in 1994 by researcher Jean-Marie Chauvet. (AP Photo/DRAC Rhone-Alpes, Ministere de la Culture)
This undated photo provided Monday June 23, 2014 by the French Ministry of Culture shows a drawing in the Cave of Pont d’Arc, southern France. Drawings of mammoths, human footprints and other art carved on cave walls in southern France about 30,000 years ago have been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. The U.N. cultural agency says that the Decorated Cave of Pont d’Arc contains the best preserved figurative drawings in the world. The drawings were unexpectedly discovered in 1994 by researcher Jean-Marie Chauvet. (AP Photo/DRAC Rhone-Alpes, Ministere de la Culture)
This undated photo provided Monday June 23, 2014 by the French Ministry of Culture shows a drawing in the Cave of Pont d’Arc, southern France. Drawings of mammoths, human footprints and other art carved on cave walls in southern France about 30,000 years ago have been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. The U.N. cultural agency says that the Decorated Cave of Pont d’Arc contains the best preserved figurative drawings in the world. The drawings were unexpectedly discovered in 1994 by researcher Jean-Marie Chauvet. (AP Photo/DRAC Rhone-Alpes, Ministere de la Culture)
This undated photo provided Monday June 23, 2014 by the French Ministry of Culture shows a detail in the Cave of Pont d’Arc, southern France. Drawings of mammoths, human footprints and other art carved on cave walls in southern France about 30,000 years ago have been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. The U.N. cultural agency says that the Decorated Cave of Pont d’Arc contains the best preserved figurative drawings in the world. The drawings were unexpectedly discovered in 1994 by researcher Jean-Marie Chauvet. (AP Photo/DRAC Rhone-Alpes, Ministere de la Culture)
This undated photo provided Monday June 23, 2014 by the French Ministry of Culture shows a detail in the Cave of Pont d’Arc, southern France. Drawings of mammoths, human footprints and other art carved on cave walls in southern France about 30,000 years ago have been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. The U.N. cultural agency says that the Decorated Cave of Pont d’Arc contains the best preserved figurative drawings in the world. The drawings were unexpectedly discovered in 1994 by researcher Jean-Marie Chauvet. (AP Photo/DRAC Rhone-Alpes, Ministere de la Culture)
This undated photo provided Monday June 23, 2014 by the French Ministry of Culture shows a drawing in the Cave of Pont d’Arc, southern France. Drawings of mammoths, human footprints and other art carved on cave walls in southern France about 30,000 years ago have been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. The U.N. cultural agency says that the Decorated Cave of Pont d’Arc contains the best preserved figurative drawings in the world. The drawings were unexpectedly discovered in 1994 by researcher Jean-Marie Chauvet. (AP Photo/DRAC Rhone-Alpes, Ministere de la Culture)
** FILE ** This July 25, 2008 file photo shows part of Lascaux famed cave drawings in southwest France. Geologists, biologists and other scientists convened in Paris Thursday, Feb. 26, 2009 for a conference on how to stop the spread of fungus stains, aggravated by global warming, that threaten France's famed Lascaux cave drawings. (AP Photo/Pierre Andrieu, Pool)
** FILE ** This July 25, 2008 file photo shows French curator Jean-Michel Geneste pointing at some parts of the famed Lascaux cave drawings in southwest France. Geologists, biologists and other scientists convened in Paris Thursday, Feb. 26, 2009 for a conference on how to stop the spread of fungus stains, aggravated by global warming, that threaten France's famed Lascaux cave drawings. (AP Photo/Pierre Andrieu, pool)
** FILE ** This July 25, 2008 file photo shows French Culture Minister Christine Albanel, left, French curator Jean-Michel Geneste, 2nd from left, with journalists and scientists look at the Lascaux cave drawings in southwest France. Geologists, biologists and other scientists convened in Paris Thursday, Feb. 26, 2009 for a conference on how to stop the spread of fungus stains, aggravated by global warming, that threaten France's famed Lascaux cave drawings. (AP Photo/Pierre Andrieu, pool)
Part of Lascaux famed cave drawings are photographed in southwest France, during a rare visit, Friday, July 25, 2008. Clusters of black fungus have been spreading over the drawings said scientists in 2007. The stains were the latest biological threat to the Lascaux cave drawings, which were discovered in 1940 and are considered one of the finest examples of prehistoric art. Carbon-dating suggests the murals of bulls, felines and other images were created between 15,000 and 17,500 years ago in the caves near Montignac, in the Dordogne region. In 1963, after green algae and other damage appeared, the caves were closed to the public. Only scientists and a few others are allowed to enter at certain times. (AP Photo/Pierre Andrieu, Pool)
Part of Lascaux famed cave drawings are photographed in southwest France, during a rare visit, Friday, July 25, 2008. Clusters of black fungus have been spreading over the drawings said scientists in 2007. The stains were the latest biological threat to the Lascaux cave drawings, which were discovered in 1940 and are considered one of the finest examples of prehistoric art. Carbon-dating suggests the murals of bulls, felines and other images were created between 15,000 and 17,500 years ago in the caves near Montignac, in the Dordogne region. In 1963, after green algae and other damage appeared, the caves were closed to the public. Only scientists and a few others are allowed to enter at certain times. (AP Photo/Pierre Andrieu, Pool)
Part of Lascaux famed cave drawings are photographed in southwest France, during a rare visit, Friday, July 25, 2008. Clusters of black fungus have been spreading over the drawings said scientists in 2007. The stains were the latest biological threat to the Lascaux cave drawings, which were discovered in 1940 and are considered one of the finest examples of prehistoric art. Carbon-dating suggests the murals of bulls, felines and other images were created between 15,000 and 17,500 years ago in the caves near Montignac, in the Dordogne region. In 1963, after green algae and other damage appeared, the caves were closed to the public. Only scientists and a few others are allowed to enter at certain times. (AP Photo/Pierre Andrieu, Pool)
Picture of a painting surrounded by moulds taken during a rare visit of the Lascaux Cave, Friday, July 25, 2008, near the village of Montignac, south Western France. The cave, added to the Unesco World Heritage Sites list in 1979, containing some of the most well-known Upper Paleolithic art, estimated to be 16,000 years old, was closed to the public in 1963 in order to preserve the art. Clusters of black fungus have been spreading over the drawings said scientists in 2007. The stains were the latest biological threat to the Lascaux cave drawings, which were discovered in 1940 and are considered one of the finest examples of prehistoric art. Carbon-dating suggests the murals of bulls, felines and other images were created between 15,000 and 17,500 years ago in the caves, in the Dordogne region. In 1963, after green algae and other damage appeared, the caves were closed to the public. Only scientists and a few others are allowed to enter at certain times. (AP Photo/Pierre Andrieu, Pool)
Part of Lascaux famed cave drawings are photographed in southwest France, during a rare visit, Friday, July 25, 2008. Clusters of black fungus have been spreading over the drawings said scientists in 2007. The stains were the latest biological threat to the Lascaux cave drawings, which were discovered in 1940 and are considered one of the finest examples of prehistoric art. Carbon-dating suggests the murals of bulls, felines and other images were created between 15,000 and 17,500 years ago in the caves near Montignac, in the Dordogne region. In 1963, after green algae and other damage appeared, the caves were closed to the public. Only scientists and a few others are allowed to enter at certain times. (AP Photo/Pierre Andrieu, Pool)
Picture of a painted bull of the "main gallery" taken during a visit of the Lascaux Cave on July 25, 2008 near the village of Montignac, south western France. The cave, added to the Unesco World Heritage Sites list in 1979, containing some of the most well-known Upper Paleolithic art, estimated to be 16,000 years old, was closed to the public in 1963 in order to preserve the art. Clusters of black fungus have been spreading over the drawings said scientists in 2007. The stains were the latest biological threat to the Lascaux cave drawings, which were discovered in 1940 and are considered one of the finest examples of prehistoric art. Carbon-dating suggests the murals of bulls, felines and other images were created between 15,000 and 17,500 years ago in the caves, in the Dordogne region. In 1963, after green algae and other damage appeared, the caves were closed to the public. Only scientists and a few others are allowed to enter at certain times. (AP Photo/Pierre Andrieu, Pool)
Part of Lascaux famed cave drawings are photographed in southwest France, during a rare visit, Friday, July 25, 2008. Clusters of black fungus have been spreading over the drawings said scientists in 2007. The stains were the latest biological threat to the Lascaux cave drawings, which were discovered in 1940 and are considered one of the finest examples of prehistoric art. Carbon-dating suggests the murals of bulls, felines and other images were created between 15,000 and 17,500 years ago in the caves near Montignac, in the Dordogne region. In 1963, after green algae and other damage appeared, the caves were closed to the public. Only scientists and a few others are allowed to enter at certain times. (AP Photo/Pierre Andrieu, Pool)
Part of Lascaux famed cave drawings are photographed in southwest France, during a rare visit, Friday, July 25, 2008. Clusters of black fungus have been spreading over the drawings said scientists in 2007. The stains were the latest biological threat to the Lascaux cave drawings, which were discovered in 1940 and are considered one of the finest examples of prehistoric art. Carbon-dating suggests the murals of bulls, felines and other images were created between 15,000 and 17,500 years ago in the caves near Montignac, in the Dordogne region. In 1963, after green algae and other damage appeared, the caves were closed to the public. Only scientists and a few others are allowed to enter at certain times. (AP Photo/Pierre Andrieu, Pool)
Part of Lascaux famed cave drawings are photographed in southwest France, during a rare visit, Friday, July 25, 2008. Clusters of black fungus have been spreading over the drawings said scientists in 2007. The stains were the latest biological threat to the Lascaux cave drawings, which were discovered in 1940 and are considered one of the finest examples of prehistoric art. Carbon-dating suggests the murals of bulls, felines and other images were created between 15,000 and 17,500 years ago in the caves near Montignac, in the Dordogne region. In 1963, after green algae and other damage appeared, the caves were closed to the public. Only scientists and a few others are allowed to enter at certain times. (AP Photo/Pierre Andrieu, Pool)
Part of the famed Lascaux cave drawings are photographed in southwest France, during a rare visit, Friday, July 25, 2008. Clusters of black fungus have been spreading over the drawings said scientists in 2007. The stains were the latest biological threat to the Lascaux cave drawings, which were discovered in 1940 and are considered one of the finest examples of prehistoric art. Carbon-dating suggests the murals of bulls, felines and other images were created between 15,000 and 17,500 years ago in the caves near Montignac, in the Dordogne region. In 1963, after green algae and other damage appeared, the caves were closed to the public. Only scientists and a few others are allowed to enter at certain times. (AP Photo/Pierre, Pool)
French Culture Minister Christine Albanel, left, French curator Jean-Michel Geneste, 2nd from left, journalists and scientists look at the Lascaux cave drawings in southwest France, Friday, July 25, 2008. Clusters of black fungus have been spreading over the drawings said scientists in 2007. The stains were the latest biological threat to the Lascaux cave drawings, which were discovered in 1940 and are considered one of the finest examples of prehistoric art. Carbon-dating suggests the murals of bulls, felines and other images were created between 15,000 and 17,500 years ago in the caves near Montignac, in the Dordogne region. In 1963, after green algae and other damage appeared, the caves were closed to the public. Only scientists and a few others are allowed to enter at certain times. (AP Photo/Pierre Andrieu. Pool)
Buffaloes and horses are among the animals depicted in wall paintings found in a cave in the Ardeche River Canyon in the Rhone-Alpes region of France on Dec. 25, 1994. The drawings are about 20,000 years old showing animals that existed in the area during the Paleolithic era. (AP Photo/Jean Clottes)
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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ancient cave drawings in Indonesia are as old as famous prehistoric art in Europe, according to a new study that shows our ancestors were drawing all over the world 40,000 years ago.

And it hints at an even earlier dawn of creativity in modern humans, going back to Africa, than scientists had thought.

Archaeologists calculated that a dozen stencils of hands in mulberry red and two detailed drawings of an animal described as a "pig-deer" are between 35,000 to 40,000 years old, based on levels of decay of the element uranium. That puts the art found in Sulawesi, southeast of Borneo, in the same rough time period as drawings found in Spain and a famous cave in France.

And one of the Indonesian handprints, pegged as at least 39,900 years old, is now the oldest hand stencil known to science, according to a new study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Study: Asian Cave Drawings As Old As Europe's


These are more than 100 Indonesian cave drawings that have been known since 1950. In 2011, scientists noticed some strange outcroppings - called "cave popcorn" - on the drawings. Those mineral deposits would make it possible to use the new technology of uranium decay dating to figure out how old the art is. So they tested the cave popcorn that had grown over the stencils that would give a minimum age. It was near 40,000 years.

"Whoa, it was not expected," recalled study lead author Maxime Aubert, an archaeologist and geochemist at Griffith University in Australia.

Looking at the paintings, the details on the animal drawings are "really, really well-made," Aubert said in a phone interview from Jakarta, Indonesia. "Then when you look at it in context that it's really 40,000 years old, it's amazing."

Paleoanthropologist John Shea of Stony Brook University in New York, who wasn't part of the study, called this an important discovery that changes what science thought about early humans and art.

Before this discovery, experts had a Europe-centric view of how, when and where humans started art, Aubert said. Knowing when art started is important because "it kind of defines us as a species," he said.

Because the European and Asian art are essentially the same age, it either means art developed separately and simultaneously in different parts of the world or "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 because the geology doesn't preserve it.

Shea and others lean toward the earlier art theory.

"What this tells us is that when humans began moving out of Africa they were not all that different from us in terms of their abilities to use art and symbol," Shea said in an email. "Inasmuch as many of us would have difficulty replicating such paintings, they may even have been our superiors in this respect."

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