Ancient paintings depicting the outline of human hands and animals on the Sulawesi island of Indonesia could rewrite the history books. Until now, archaeologists believed that cave paintings were invented by humans in Europe between 5,000 and 40,000 years ago. But the prehistoric rock art in Indonesia is at least 40,000 years old, according to a study published in the journal Nature.

40,000-Year Old Paintings In Indonesia Could Be World's Oldest Rock Art

Scientists used the uranium decay technique

Scientists led by Maxime Aubert of Australia’s Griffith University used a highly precise method to determine the age of the paintings. They used the uranium decay technique to date the small mineral growths that formed on some of the paintings. Sulawesi’s cave art was first described in 1950s, but scientists at the time claimed it was no more than 10,000 years old.

The oldest artwork at the site, a hand outline, was comparable in age to the oldest-known rock art on Spain’s El Castillo site. Paintings of a red disk at El Castillo are about 40,800 years old. Thomas Sutikna of the University of Wollongong in Australia said the rock art in Indonesia indicate that the cave art may have evolved independently at around the same time in different parts of the world.

Paintings in Indonesia will change our view

Scientists focused on 14 paintings: two animal depictions and 12 human hand stencils. Ancient humans used a pigment called red ochre to create red and mulberry-colored paintings. Other scientists not involved in the project have called the findings unexpected and spectacular. Lead author Maxime Aubert said it would change “our view of when and where humans became completely modern.”

By comparison, the paintings of horses and other animals at the Chauvet and Lascaux cave sites in France are between 26,000 and 18,000 years old. Sulawesi’s figurative animals, a babirusa and a pig, are at least 35,000 years old. Aubert said the created brilliance required to make lifelike paintings of animals in France could have deep roots in the human lineage.

Paintings are indicators of an abstract mind of the ancient human, which is considered the onset of modern humans.