Cave Drawings Suggest Art May Be Older Than We Thought

An example of cave art from Crimea. Image:  Konstantin Malanchev
An example of cave art from Crimea. Image:
Konstantin Malanchev

Some cave drawings in Indonesia are changing the way scientists think about early humans and art.

There are about a dozen drawings. They are red and they are of an animal that looks like a “pig-deer” and some are tracings of people’s hands.

It’s not the drawings that are so surprising—although they are quite detailed for their time—it’s how old they are, and where they were found.

Scientists have known for a long time that early humans (40,000 years ago) created art in Europe. They wondered why they didn’t see art in other regions of the world as well, dating back to that time.

The cave drawings in Indonesia, in Asia, date back about 40,000 years.

So now scientists have some proof that early humans were making art in Europe and in Asia around the same time.

That’s important, because it means one of two things. That humans co-incidentally started drawing in two different parts of the world 40,000 years ago. Or, that art started in Africa, before humans left it 65,000 years ago to venture out to Asia and to Europe. If art started 65,000 years ago, it’s older than was previously thought.

Scientists don’t have examples of ancient art in Africa because it wasn’t preserved there (in other words, because of the land structures there, it would have been destroyed by nature).

The research was done by a team of scientists at Griffith University in Australia, headed by Maxime Aubert, an archaeologist and geochemist. The research was published in the journal called Nature.

By Kathleen Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
Why do you think cave art was created? Do you think it was created as art, or do you think it was created to communicate ideas? If you think it was for communication, what could it have been about?

Reading Prompt: Making Inferences/Interpreting Texts
The article explains that early humans lived in Europe and Asia over 40,000 years ago. What would life have been like for these humans? What would their environment be like? What would be similar to our lives today?

Develop interpretations about texts using stated and implied ideas to support their interpretations (OME, Reading: 1.8).

Develop and explain interpretations of increasingly complex or difficult texts using stated and implied ideas from the texts to support their interpretations (OME, Reading: 1.8).

Language Feature: Proper Nouns
Nouns are people, places and things. Proper nouns – such as Asia, Europe and Griffith University – are called ‘proper nouns’ because they are specific people, places and things.

Circle all of the proper nouns in the article. What do they have in common?