While the names of Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Monet and Picasso echo through the ages, and loom large over the annals of art history, archaeologists have found the work of the world’s first true artist. While the series of cave paintings in Borneo were discovered in 1994, recent analysis has dated them back to around 40,000 years ago.
The Guardian quoted Maxime Aubert, an archaeologist and geochemist at the Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, as saying, “It is the oldest figurative cave painting in the world. It’s amazing to see that. It’s an intimate window into the past.”
The faded, cracked reddish-orange image depicts a rotund but slender-legged animal, presumed to be a species of the wild cattle which still roam the island. Given that the animal is slashed with a straight line at its side, which researchers say could depict a spear, it is evident that the artist was hungry at the time of drawing his masterpiece.
The Guardian reported that the animal is one of a trio of large creatures etched on a wall in the Lubang Jeriji Saléh cave, which is located in the province of East Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo. The region is known for its ancient rock art, which comprise thousands of paintings dotting the limestone caves, and has been studied since 1994, when the first drawings were spotted by French explorer Luc-Henri Fage.
While this is arguably the world’s first figurative painting, rock art itself is thought to have begun much earlier, when Neanderthals decorated the walls of caves in modern Spain much before our first human ancestors reached Europe. In September, researchers revealed their analysis of a 73,000-year-old lump of rock, marked with a crisscross design, which was discovered during excavation in a cave in South Africa.