Indonesian Cave Paintings Shake Up Art History
Asians were not supposed to be so culturally talented 40,000 years ago, but their cave art shows the same finesse seen in contemporary European caves.
National Geographic and the BBC News present newly-dated art panels in a cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, dated in the evolutionary timeline at up to 40,000 years old. This date is older than the exquisite art found in France at Chauvet Cave, already a blockbuster that challenged ideas of human cultural evolution. The news media are all reporting that this art, originally thought to be 10,000 years old but re-dated radiometrically at four times that age, is now to be considered the oldest figurative artwork in the world. It consists primarily of hand stencils and outlines of animals such as ‘pig-deer’ or babirusa, familiar to that area. The articles mention that this update is shaking up evolutionary ideas once again, removing the “Euro-centric” view of humans moving out of Africa into Europe, where intelligence capable of symbolic expression evolved:
- “rewrites the history of art… suggests that art may have been universal among early modern people, including those who left Africa” (National Geographic)
- “Until now, paintings this old had been confirmed in caves only in Western Europe…. important because it shows the beginnings of human intelligence as we understand it today….. For decades, the only evidence of ancient cave art was in Spain and southern France. It led some to believe that the creative explosion that led to the art and science we know today began in Europe. But the discovery of paintings of a similar age in Indonesia shatters this view, according to Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London.” (BBC News)
- “The paintings were found decades ago in Indonesia’s Maros and Pangkep regions, which have cave-dotted karst rock formations. But the artwork was only recently dated, revealing that the paintings are much older than was previously assumed…. It’s not clear if humans already had artistic instincts by the time the [sic] left Africa to colonize parts of Eurasia 100,000 years ago, or if symbolic representation arose independently in far-flung parts of the globe.” (Live Science)
- “It allows us to move away from the view that Europe was special,” says Maxime Aubert, an archaeologist at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, who led the team. “There was some idea that early Europeans were more aware of themselves and their surroundings. Now we can say that’s not true.” (Nature News)
- “This suggests either that humans in Europe and Indonesia each invented symbolic art at roughly the same time, or that modern humans brought their artistic capabilities with them as they spread out of Africa starting about 60,000 years ago.” (Ann Gibbons for Science Magazine)
- “The results were unexpected.” (Wil Roebroeks in Nature)
The findings are published in Nature (M. Aubert et al.), where the authors describe their dating methods. A funny thing about those dates; they cover a period of 4,500 years: “One stencilled hand was painted at least 39,900 years ago, and images of a pig deer (babirusa) and a large, indeterminate animal, probably a pig, were created at least 35,400 and 35,700 years ago, respectively,” Roebroeks says. Is it realistic that people with this level of sophistication made only a few paintings in this cave over a period comparable to recorded human history, never developing computers and a space program way back then?
One of the archaeologists, Alistair Pike, was asked by National Geographic how surprising this is. “Absolutely this changes our views and is going to make us ask a lot of questions about the causes rather than the origins of cave art,” he said. “The hand stencils are almost identical to ones seen in Europe and elsewhere around the world, which is really interesting.” The article shows the cave location and researchers at work. It’s interesting that they are called “archaeologists” instead of “paleoanthropologists” in this article.
All the articles assume that intelligence sufficient for this kind of artwork had evolved back as far as 50,000 years, 60,000 years, or even 100,000 years ago. If early humans with modern body build and brain size had been migrating from Africa to Europe and Asia before making these cave figures, why would they not have achieved much more global communication during the period of time the cave paintings were made? Cave paintings survive well because they are protected from weather and erosion, but other examples of symbolic art or intelligent activity cannot be discounted.
Aubert’s team expects that even older artwork will be found. Ann Gibbons writes for Science Magazine:
Meanwhile, Aubert is optimistic that researchers will find more ancient art. “The discovery must surely be the tip of the iceberg,” Pettitt agrees. “So relatively little fieldwork has been undertaken on sites of this antiquity in the vastness of East Asia that it would be surprising if this were it.”
Hand prints seem to be a common motif for human beings. Similar prints have been found in the Grand Canyon, for instance. No other primate (or animal) takes an interest in leaving a legacy of its presence. The tradition continues with the “selfie” craze on smartphones, which seems to announce, “I’m here, and I matter.”
“I matter,” not merely “I am matter”. Mind your matters; this is evidence of intelligent design, not evolution. All the articles are steeped in evolutionary assumptions, like dirty tea bags in hot springs. But they cannot account for this unique trait of human beings: self-awareness and a desire for significance, much less how that miracle occurred spontaneously in separate people groups across the globe. That doesn’t make any sense.
The evolutionary dates don’t make any sense, either, as we have pointed out many times over. In all that time, none of these intelligent artists learned how to ride a horse or plant a farm? Get real. Why do we listen to these boneheads who can’t see falsification staring them in the face? The migrations and artwork are much more recent than we are being told. Humans leaving Babel in the middle east spread abroad through the continents looking for new places to find significance, starting over from scratch. It makes sense that many in Asia, Africa and Europe lived in caves for a time and hunted animals for food. Need more evidence? This is all recorded in the remarkably-accurate Table of Nations in Genesis 10, complete with names, dates and information that can be cross-checked against other archaeological sources. It’s also understandable that the earliest civilizations sprang up suddenly in the area of Babel and in the Fertile Crescent among people who could understand one another’s language and didn’t have to travel as far.
The God who made human beings in his own image, with self-awareness, intelligence and aesthetic ability, has explained what He did and how He did it. The only question remaining is whether we are willing to believe His word. In His light, we can see light (Psalm 36:9).