The World’s Oldest Known Artwork

Contrary to popular belief, the world’s oldest known artworks aren’t in Europe. They are in Indonesia, and they’re much, much older than previously thought.


ABOVE: Cahyo Ramadhani, Hand Prints in Pettakere Cave at Leang Prehistoric Site, Maros

Although known and used by locals for a long time, the Pettakere cave in Indonesia wasn’t “officially” discovered until 1973. Once found, archaeologists falsely assumed that the tropical air would have faded the artworks, so they estimated them to be about 10,000 years old. In 2011, the crust which had formed atop the paintings was examined, and a new estimate of 35,000 to 40,000 years was given. Today, they are widely believed to be the oldest artworks in the world.

The imagery inside the cave consists of multiple hand prints and a painting of a hog deer. It is believed that the palm prints were placed there to ward off evil spirits while people slept. The significance of the deer is unknown.

Also unknown, is whether the imagery and style arose independently in Indonesia, or was brought there by early humans leaving Africa.

“It allows us to move away from the view that Europe was special,” said lead archaeologist Maxime Aubert. “There was some idea that early Europeans were more aware of themselves and their surroundings. Now we can say that’s not true.”

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