with cave art
Archaeologists Uncover Children's Hand and Foot Prints in What's Thought to Be the Oldest Cave Art To Date
A series of hand and foot impressions uncovered in the Quesang village in the Tibetan Plateau might rewrite the art-historical timeline. According to an article published this month in Science Bulletin, researchers believe the ancient prints were made between 169,000 and 226,000 years ago and appear to be placed intentionally, cementing the notion that they’re the earliest examples of cave art yet to be uncovered.
Of course, there’s plenty of debate over whether these impressions are art, although archaeologists arguing for the categorization are staking their claims on intent. “It is the composition, which is deliberate, the fact the traces were not made by normal locomotion, and the care taken so that one trace does not overlap the next,” geologist Matthew Bennett told Gizmodo, rejecting the idea that the prints are a byproduct of common movement like walking or grasping nearby material for stabilization. If the impressions are considered art, they predate the prehistoric figurative findings in both Sulawesi and Lasceaux, which date back about 43,900 and 17,000 years, respectively.
Fossilized on a piece of limestone called travertine, the size and variances of the prints also indicate that they were made by two children. Archaeologists theorize that the indentations, which include five feet and five hands, were placed in mud near the Quesang Hot Spring before it compacted under pressure, or lithified, preserving the duo’s pieces in the hardened material for millennia. Although the research team isn’t sure that the creators were Homo sapiens—the timeline also aligns with the Denisovans, an extinct species from the hominin group that primarily occupied what’s now Asia—if they were, they were likely 7 and 12 years old.
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Deep within Leang Tedongnge, a cave tucked away on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, archaeologists discovered this mulberry-hued painting of a warty pig and two hand silhouettes potentially belonging to the artist, which is now believed to be the oldest figurative work in the world. A study published in Science Advances this week says the impeccably preserved rendering is at least 45,500 years old, which predates previously discovered depictions of mythical creatures in the region. Those prior findings date back about 43,900 years.
Questions remain about the exact age of the work and who made it. Archaeologists from Griffith University, who helmed the mission, utilized uranium-series dating to determine how old the speleothem, or mineral deposits, of the cave is rather than the actual painting. There’s also debate about whether modern humans are responsible for the renderings, a question that’s complicated by the fact that the only skeletal remains that date back at least 45,500 years in Sulawesi belong to early hominins.
Dr. Adam Brumm, who co-authored the study, told The New York Times that researchers expect to discover similar artworks in the region, although the cave paintings are deteriorating at a rapid rate and could fade before they’re ever uncovered. “It is very worrying, and given the current situation the end result is likely to be the eventual destruction of this ice age Indonesian art, perhaps even within our lifetime,” Brumm said.
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