44,000 Year-Old Indonesian Cave Painting Rewriting History Of Art

Believe it or not, art and its history did not start with Marvel Comics. Or Leonardo da Vinci, for that matter. Not even those bible illuminators did it first. In fact, the oldest art in the world was around long before the bible, and used rock as its medium.

According to NPR, we've known that the world's oldest paintings were cave paintings, and for a long time we believed the first and oldest of those paintings to be in Europe, like France's 37,000 year old cave art in Chauvet. Some of it looks like it could have been done yesterday by a pretty talented sketch artist.

Now, those paintings appear to be mere toddlers when compared to artĀ found in Indonesia dating back 44,000 years.

Cave murals

Their age was a "very, very surprising discovery," says Adam Brumm, an archaeologist at Australia's Griffith University. Brumm and his colleagues used a radiometric dating technique called uranium-series analysis to determine the paintings' age. The oldest of all images was a "striking" image of a wild cow.

Locals had long been familiar with the paintings, but perhaps due to their level of detail and relative pristine condition, they were presumed to be relatively new. But in 2017, Brumm and a team of archaeologists discovered a massive 16-foot hunting scene. When the previously unknown scene was dated, it ended up being the oldest painting known to man. The results were published in the esteemed journal, Nature as the earliest figurative (beyond just squiggles and scribbles) art known to humanity.

The painting tells a story far more complicated than the plot of your average Michael Bay film, featuring "jungle buffaloes and wild pigs pursued by tiny hunters with spears and ropes."

"They appear to be human, but they seem to have some features or characteristics of animals," Brumm said, before speculating that "these part-human, part-animal figures might signal early religious beliefs, because they indicate that ancient humans could imagine things they had never seen."

Regardless of what those humans had seen, the discovery now leads researchers to believe that ancient humans were more advanced than we gave them credit for, and likely were doing similar work in Africa.

Whether or not we'll ever know is in question, but there's no doubt that paintings stretching back roughly 1300 generations of ancestors are something worth preserving.