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Ancient Rock Art Splattered Across Southeast Asia

Nov 26, 2014 04:37 PM EST
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Researchers have found evidence of ancient rock art splattered across Southeast Asia, the oldest of its kind in the region, shedding light on the sophistication of these early human painters, according to a new study. [Pictured: A bull from the Xianrendong rock art site (Yunnan, China). It was painted with red ochre to highlight the head, front legs and side of the body. The head has a natural hole for an eye.]

(Photo : Paul Taçon)

Researchers have found evidence of ancient rock art splattered across Southeast Asia, the oldest of its kind in the region, shedding light on the sophistication of these early human painters, according to a new study.

About 50,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers arrived on the scene and skillfully produced paintings of animals in rock shelters from southwest China to Indonesia, as well as at sites in Thailand, Cambodia, and Malaysia.

With the previous discovery of rock art in Sulawesi, Indonesia dating back 35,000 to 40,000 years ago, researchers had thought that the practice of art among these early humans were merely an anomaly. But this latest research shows that it was in fact widespread across 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," study leader Professor Paul Taçon of Griffith University said in a statement.

But unlike in Europe, the oldest surviving rock art of Southeast Asia is mostly found in rock shelters rather than deep caves. Experts have argued in the past that these deep caves were the source of inspiration for our European ancestors, but the same cannot be said of those hailing from Southeast Asia.

"This shows a purposeful engagement with the new places early peoples arrived in for both symbolic and practical reasons," Taçon explained. "Essentially, they humanized landscapes wherever they went, transforming them from wild places to cultural landscapes."

While the findings, published in the journal Antiquity, demonstrate the art-rich culture of Southeast Asia's early inhabitants, it also has implications for understanding art in Europe as well as Australia, where depictions of of naturalistic animals and stencils have been found.

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