Ancient Rock Art Discovered Across Asia was Created by Prehistoric Humans

First Posted: Nov 26, 2014 11:20 AM EST

It turns out that rock art may be far older than expected. Scientists have taken a look at the oldest surviving rock art of Southeast Asia and found that the region's first people, hunter-gatherers that arrived over 50,000 years ago, brought with them a rich art practice.

The scientists examined several locations in various countries, conducting field work. These included regions that extended from southwest China to Indonesia.

The researchers first identified the oldest paintings by analyzing overlapping superimpositions of art in various styles as well as numerical dating. In the end, the researchers found that many of the oldest arts consisted mainly of naturalistic images of wild animals and, in some locations, hand stencils.

"As with the early art of Europe, the oldest Southeast Asian images often incorporated or were placed in relation to natural features of rock surfaces," said Paul Tacon, the lead researcher, in a news release. "This shows a purposeful engagement with the new places early peoples arrived in for both symbolic and practical reasons. Essentially, they humanized landscapes wherever they went, transforming them from wild places to cultural landscapes. This was the beginning of a process that continues to this day."

The findings actually support the idea that early Indonesia rock art dates back to humans who brought the practice from Africa. This means that humans were constructing this type of artwork long before it arrived in southeast Asia.

"This significantly shifts debates about the origins of art-making and supports ideas that this fundamental human behavior began with our most ancient ancestors in Africa rather than Europe," said Tacon.

The findings reveal a bit more about the origins of rock art and show that it may be far older than expected.

The findings are published in the journal Antiquity.

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