Not a month after we find out about the 40,000-year-old abstract cave art produced by Neanderthals, in Gorham’s Cave on Gibraltar, we now hear about cave art from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, halfway across the planet from Spain.
It appears that the hand stencils shown above were produced about the same as the etchings in Gorham’s Cave – somewhere around 40,000 year ago – which makes it the oldest confirmed cave art outside of Western Europe, although this artwork appears to be more figurative than abstract – if I’m not mistaken. And even though this is only one example of art this old found anywhere else in the world, it speaks volumes about the possibilities of when art was really first produced and how widespread it was. It’s like finding life on another planet. Once that has happened, we can begin to speculate about life being emergent all across the Universe, given enough time and the right conditions.
Of course, I don’t put life and art in the same category when considering how widespread it is, but we might have more incentive to locate evidence of when and where humans were first beginning to transplant reality (or something inside their minds) on to rock or another surface in the form of paintings, etchings and some such like. We could make more of an effort to go looking for it in other cave systems around the world, and also re-examine some of the caves paintings already discovered and try to date them more accurately. With this, we might be in for some big surprises.
The undisturbed darkness waits for us…
Interestingly, art of this age always seems to be found in deep caves, perhaps forgotten about by humans for vast amounts of time and so not tampered with. It will also have been less affected by weather, animal or plant life, or excessive air pollution of one kind or another, although it appears local industry has recently damaged some of the cave art on Sulawesi, so time might be of the essence in other caves around the world in similar situations.
Thinking on a grand scale, there might have been a time and a place where this kind of art was spread across a wide area, on rocks and standing stones, on trees and animals. Try throwing a bucket of paint over a bison, for example.
The world of ancient humans might have been just like an art gallery to us. Andy Goldsworthy, eat your heart out.
Rock balancing is great fun.