October 09, 2014

~40 thousand year old cave art from Indonesia

The BBC website has some nice pictures of it.

Nature 514, 223–227 (09 October 2014) doi:10.1038/nature13422

Pleistocene cave art from Sulawesi, Indonesia

M. Aubert et al.

Archaeologists have long been puzzled by the appearance in Europe ~40–35 thousand years (kyr) ago of a rich corpus of sophisticated artworks, including parietal art (that is, paintings, drawings and engravings on immobile rock surfaces)1, 2 and portable art (for example, carved figurines)3, 4, and the absence or scarcity of equivalent, well-dated evidence elsewhere, especially along early human migration routes in South Asia and the Far East, including Wallacea and Australia5, 6, 7, 8, where modern humans (Homo sapiens) were established by 50 kyr ago9, 10. Here, using uranium-series dating of coralloid speleothems directly associated with 12 human hand stencils and two figurative animal depictions from seven cave sites in the Maros karsts of Sulawesi, we show that rock art traditions on this Indonesian island are at least compatible in age with the oldest European art11. The earliest dated image from Maros, with a minimum age of 39.9 kyr, is now the oldest known hand stencil in the world. In addition, a painting of a babirusa (‘pig-deer’) made at least 35.4 kyr ago is among the earliest dated figurative depictions worldwide, if not the earliest one. Among the implications, it can now be demonstrated that humans were producing rock art by ~40 kyr ago at opposite ends of the Pleistocene Eurasian world.



Kes said...

Doesn't this fit with the evidence for the spread of K* descendants from eastern Indonesia?

Maybe whatever superior cultural/technological kit allowed their rapid westward expansion included such painting techniques.

eurologist said...

That fits with the general idea (supported by haplogroup studies) that a major expansion event around 50,000 ya, located in the S / SE Asia region, let to the explosion of culturally modern humans throughout Asia, Western Siberia, Eastern Siberia/ Beringia, Western Asia, and Europe.

And of course, not out-of-Africa, at that time or anything close to it (by a factor of two, or so).

Neanderthal Hybrid said...

Ok, if this was meant to be a babirusa, the artist wasn't very good, or was working from second hand observations. First of all, the babirusa is a pig and therefore has a very thick neck. This painting is of a very fat specimen which still has a very thin gracile neck, more like a grazing animal. Likewise, the babirusa has backswept tusks erupting from the jaws (below the eyes). This animal has horns erupting from above the eyes. Finally, the animal painted has hair, which the babirusa does not. I believe it is a rather accurate depiction of a Kacang (native goat), which has a hair pattern like the painting.


Neanderthal Hybrid said...

My apologies for the double post. I had missed the BBC link while trying to multitask. I see the BBC article refers to the animal as a dwarf bovid. Yes, I concur with that. Let us assume the artist knew what he or she was drawing and was as competent as modern artists. The Anoa is an even better match than the Kacang. Note the rotund body and thin neck:


mguru said...

What is older art or language?

terryt said...

"Doesn't this fit with the evidence for the spread of K* descendants from eastern Indonesia?"

That was my first reaction when I saw the information at another site. In other words representational art may have been 'invented' in SE Asia and carried west from there. After all K2b2 (or P if you prefer) almost certainly originated near Wallace's Line as all K2b1 are found beyond it and other K2(xK2a/NO) haplogroups are present along the string of islands between the Malay Peninsula and Bali.

Grizzlor said...

Did I understand correctly - you propose that modern humans originated from southeast Asia instead of East Africa/Arabian peninsula?

DDeden said...

I agree that the anoa is a good fit.

I think the painting indicates use of bamboo/reed for spraypainting, and thus blowguns and fire pistons as still used in Borneo.

Any guess on size of hands? Might they have been AMH Asian pygmies, as (in my opinion) on Flores & Queensland, Andamans?

terryt said...

"Did I understand correctly - you propose that modern humans originated from southeast Asia instead of East Africa/Arabian peninsula?"

Jumping in here, I might attempt to explain Eurologist's view. He actually said, 'a major expansion event around 50,000 ya, located in the S / SE Asia region, let to the explosion of culturally modern humans'. In other words just one element of what we now call 'modern humans' spread from SE Asia. Specifically the male line although I strongly suspect the mtDNA R line accompanied it. But those male and female lines both have a deeper origin in Africa anyway. As a result we can say that modern humans are the product of a series of genetic movements and mixing spread over considerable time.

eurologist said...


The way I see it, most of the cognitive development of modern humans took place in the ~2 million to ~400,000 ya time frame, and almost all of that in Africa for the first million years of that. After that first million years, it was a mixture of events mostly in Africa, West Asia, and Europe, and for then, less so in Central or Eastern Asia. After ~400,000 ya until ~ 125,000 ya there was a strict climatic separation between Africa and the other two continents, with all groups making their own, separate progress. While ~200,000 ya Africans developed a symbiosis of anatomically modern features and associated cultural and cognitive advances, European and West Asian heidelbergensis and, later, Neanderthal advanced eastward and started to populate Central (and in the former case, likely also Eastern) Asia, and more northern latitudes than ever before - similarly due to cognitive and cultural advances.

Between ~125,000 and ~100,000 ya, anatomically modern humans from NE Africa settled Arabia and advanced into West and Southern Central Asia, and then into SE Asia likely just before and again after Toba (~70,000 ya). Most modern European male and female haplogroups can be traced to S and SE Asia - because populations built up there to large numbers, cultural and technical innovations were made, and by about 50,000 ya Neanderthals, heidelbergensis- and erectus-derived remaining groups no longer were a match for these highly-developed (in all senses) modern humans, which also had received genetic input from local archaics that helped them cope with local conditions and diseases, but likely also made them more sophisticated in particular ways.

"What is older art or language?"


I am certain language started to evolve during the early time frame I mention above, while art seems to be difficult to trace before ~150,000 ya, and does not feature prominently until ~40,000.

terryt said...

Maybe I should explain a bit more in relation to Grizzlor's question.

The haplogroup expansion from SE Asia (specifically from Wallacea) was just one of a continuing series of expansions from different regions at different times. Modern humans are the present result of such movements.

Obviously as haplogroups have moved around they have usually been accompanied by other genes. In fact it is entirely possible that genetic expansion has actually carried the haplotypes, at times even expanding beyond the haplotypes. But most of the time it appears that the haplotypes have managed to spread way beyond the collection of genes they started out with. The genes originally accompanying the haplotypes have dropped off but male and/or female lines kept going, spreading through the local inhabitants by the formation of hybrids. That is unless the population carrying the genes, including the haplotypes, have entered a previously uninhabited region. Such as across Wallace's Line or into Northern Eurasia. Or later into America and out into the Pacific.

In the vast region where genes have been travelling back and forth since Homo erectus first left Africa the situation is far more complex. The problem becomes: where do we draw the line between sapiens and pre-sapiens?

We know sapiens has picked up genes from at least two Eurasian populations considered to be pre-sapiens. And another from Africa. Scientists are going to argue forever over where to draw the line in both time and space.

DDeden said...

Perhaps they were the hands of "hobbits"?

Note the small limbs and feet, similar to later Venus figurines with reduced limbs.

Real anoa have longer limbs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anoa#mediaviewer/File:Lowland_anoa.jpg

Art or language? Completely depends on the definitions. Art of stone tool making, or 3D wall paintings, words like Ma or oral literature.