23 October 2014
Massive prehistoric settlement unearthed in Ukraine
A temple dating back about 6,000 years has been discovered within a massive prehistoric settlement in Ukraine. The temple is about 60 by 20 meters (197 by 66 feet) in size: it was a "two-story building made of wood and clay surrounded by a galleried courtyard," the upper floor divided into five rooms, write archaeologists Nataliya Burdo and Mykhailo Videiko in a copy of a presentation they gave recently at the European Association of Archaeologists' annual meeting in Istanbul, Turkey.
Inside the temple, archaeologists found the remains of eight clay platforms, which may have been used as altars, the finds suggested. A platform on the upper floor contains "numerous burnt bones of lamb, associated with sacrifice," write Burdo and Videiko, of the Institute of Archaeology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. The floors and walls of all five rooms on the upper floor were "decorated by red paint, which created [a] ceremonial atmosphere." The ground floor contains seven additional platforms and a courtyard riddled with animal bones and pottery fragments, the researchers found.
The temple, referred to as belonging to the "Trypillian" culture, was first detected in 2009 and is located in a prehistoric settlement near modern-day Nebelivka. Recent research using geophysical survey indicates the prehistoric settlement is 238 hectares (588 acres) - it contained more than 1,200 buildings and nearly 50 streets.
Fragments of figurines, some of which look similar to humans, were also found at the temple. Like findings at other Trypillian sites, some of the figurines have noses that look like beaks and eyes that are dissimilar, one being slightly larger than the other. Ornaments made of bone and gold were also discovered at the temple. The gold ornaments are less than an inch in size and may have been worn on the hair, researchers say.
The newly discovered prehistoric temple is similar to temples from the fifth to fourth millennia BCE that were built in ancient Middle East cities, such as those in Anatolia and Mesopotamia, Burdo and Videiko note.
Archaeologists found that when this prehistoric settlement was abandoned, its structures, including the newly discovered temple, were burnt down, something that commonly occurred at other Trypillian culture sites.
Edited from LiveScience (20 October 2013)
Neolithic barbeque pit found in Cyprus
Archaeologists have uncovered what could be a prehistoric barbeque pit used by large bands of hunters at the Prastio-Mesorotsos site in Cyprus. According to the antiquities department, the team of archaeologists led by Dr Andrew McCarthy, Fellow of the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, and Director of the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI), examined the prehistoric remains from the site, which was later settled during various other eras in antiquity. It said the earliest deposits on the site dated to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period - around 8000 BCE to 7000 BCE - and revealed storage pits and food preparation areas.
Two features from different areas of the site also revealed sophisticated pyrotechnology. In one instance, a large stone-lined pit showed evidence of burning and was filled with a concentration of ash. "If this feature was for roasting food, this pit-roast technique would have served the needs of a great number of people, possibly bands of hunters exploiting the upland resources," said a statement from the antiquities department.
In another area, a smaller scale but roughly contemporary feature was an above-ground mud-built (pisé) domed structure similar to a tanour or kleftiko type oven. "his smaller domed oven could have been used for baking bread or roasting meat, but represents domestic-scale usage attesting to a diversity of activities," it added.
Very close to the domed oven was an 'enigmatic' series of 12 shallow pits that were cut into one another by the ancient inhabitants over a long period of time, from the Pre-pottery Neolithic to the Ceramic (Late) Neolithic phase of the site. Many of these pits were filled deliberately with carefully-placed special objects, attesting occupational longevity and social memory of activity spaces. Archaeologists believe that the concentration of pits and the repeated use of them for disposing of unusual objects hinted at special behaviours and rituals.
Previous excavations at the site have revealed an extensive and complicated Bronze Age sequence of occupation complete with houses and work areas. Major changes in artefacts and architecture showing the transition of the site from the Early (2400 BCE) to Middle Cypriot Bronze Age (1900 BC-1600 BCE) have also been noted. Massive construction had taken place just before the site was abandoned near the end of the Middle Cypriot period, not to be resettled again until after the Late Bronze Age (1300 BCE-1200 BCE).
Edited from Cyprus Mail (14 October 2014)
5000-year-old cave paintings discovered in Russia
Russian archaeologists have discovered ancient cave paintings dating back to 3000 BC in a gorge in southern Russia. "A few days ago we found five drawings, fairly large fragments, on the territory of the Khasaut gorge," archaeologist Andrei Belinsky was quoted as saying. "This is a great discovery because no one has ever seen them before," said
Belinsky, who heads the Stavropolsky region's Heritage cultural museum. Belinsky added that the paintings, which were discovered near the Caucasian town of Kislovodsk, were made using ochre paint and had been dated back to the Bronze Age.
One of the paintings discovered in the gorge features a hunting scene as well as figures that appear to be from another world - leading scholars to conclude the paintings may have been used in ancient rituals.
Edited from The Moscow Times (14 October 2014)
20 October 2014
New settlement found in Arizona desert
In the northeast corner of Arizona (USA) is an area known as the Arizona Petrified Forest National Park. The forest in question is actually over 200 million years old and various interpretations have been placed on the fossilised logs by the native North Americans. These range from them being the bones of a great monster which was slain by their ancestors, to the arrow shafts of their thunder god.
There are now several museums located about the park, which explain the history with a greater degree of accuracy. One anomaly, however, caught the eye of a group of researchers. They noticed an area which has sandstone slabs sticking out of the ground. This was not a natural phenomenon and so must be man-made. There then ensued a labour intensive investigation by a team of 10 archaeologists who walked over the area in a methodical grid pattern, observing and recording everything they found, from pieces of stone tools to fragments of pottery.
All these finds were recorded using GPS coordinates and eventually an amazing discovery was unfolded. What emerged was a picture of a village settlement estimated to be 1,300 to 1,800 years old, comprising a series of pit houses, half buried, with sandstone walls and what would have been roofs made of organic material. It was estimated that there were between 50-70 houses, which equated to a population of 100-150.
Park superintendent Brad Travers is quoted as saying "It's the time when civilisation in our area was starting to gather in villages - not individual hunters and gatherers anymore". He went on to say "This is an important discovery not only because of what we found, but the fact that it's in a national park now means it'll be something that'll be protected for a long time".
Edited from AZ Central, International Business Times (10 October 2014)
Tracing our ancestors at the bottom of the sea
A specialist group of European researchers are studying the remains of prehistoric human settlements which are now submerged beneath our coastal seas. Some of these drowned sites are tens of thousands of years old.
This rapidly evolving field of Continental Shelf Prehistoric Research is the focus of a new paper describing how during successive ice ages, the sea level dropped at times by up to 120 metres, adding 40% to the land area of Europe. Consequently, many of the remains and artefacts of Europe's prehistory are now underwater. Considering that pre-humans inhabited the Black Sea coast 1.8 million years ago, the coast of northern Spain over 1 million years ago and; the coast of Britain at least 800,000 years ago, the drowned land includes some of the earliest routes from Africa into Europe.
More than 2,500 submerged prehistoric artefact assemblages, ranging in age from 5,000 to 300,000 years, have been found in the coastal waters and open sea basins around Europe. Only a few have been properly mapped, or assessed for preservation or excavation. These remains contain information on ancient seafaring, social structures, and use of coastal resources before the introduction of agriculture some 10,000 years ago.
The paper reports that seabed prehistoric remains are being destroyed by natural erosion and industrial disturbance, arguing that compliance with the UNESCO convention on Underwater Cultural Heritage, and other treaties and directives, can only be ensured by collaboration and funding at European level.
Many initial findings are made by industrial operations, whose role can be strengthened by improving collaboration with national cultural heritage agencies and academics, both to encourage the reporting of findings and to map, protect, and where appropriate excavate the archaeological materials.
The paper provides a comprehensive overview of recent progress in the study of our submerged cultural heritage, and sets out key research questions and policy priorities needed to support this research in the future. Professor Jan Mees, Chair of the European Marine Board, explains its importance: "our submerged cultural heritage is not a renewable resource; it is a unique irreplaceable cultural asset which can provide answers to many research questions about our prehistoric ancestors, landscapes and climate."
Edited from ScienceDaily (6 October 2014)
Prehistoric artifacts discovered in Poland
At the highest point of an elevation consisting of sands and gravels deposited long ago by a moving glacier, archaeologists stumbled upon fragments of pottery cups and bowls belonging to the Bell Beaker culture, named after their distinctive drinking vessels. Remains from this culture are found over large areas of Europe and even North Africa, but cannot be identified with any one particular people.
The vessels discovered at Suprasl, in extreme northeast Poland, are decorated with incisions on both the outer and inner surfaces. According to the researchers, they were associated with libation rituals with alcohol beverages.
Fragments of decorated vessels were surrounded by a small cluster of burned animal or human bones, where the archaeologists also found a fragment of amber bead. Another amber object was found near the cluster, next to burned bones. "Amber was an exotic and prestigious material for the Bell Beaker communities, and never before found in Podlasie. Discovered ornaments are among the oldest objects of this type in the region," says Dr Manasterski.
Archaeologists also found items made of stone and flint. The stone artefacts included an arrow straightener, an adze, a fragment of curved blade, and pieces of a dagger. Flint objects included arrowheads, knives, and various inserts for tools with a complex blade design. "All the stone artefacts are perfectly made and alien to the local production. These objects rare in this part of Europe, and very prestigious," says Dr Manasterski.
Some of the items were damaged or unfinished, which according to the archaeologists may be associated with a symbolic meaning for people who offered them. So far the archaeologists have not been able to unambiguously determine the origin of the discovered objects. Specialised laboratory tests will help answer this question.
"The entire ritual deposit is an exceptional find in central Europe. It contains one of the richest collections of objects usually found in the elite skeletal graves in Western Europe from this period," says the researcher.
"This year's finds, while exceptional due to the presence of the most easterly collection of objects associated with the Bell Beaker community, do not explain the migration routes and distances of its carriers," concludes Dr Manasterski.
Edited from Science & Scholarship in Poland (29 September 2014)
19 October 2014
Ancient male warriors showed signs of vanity
The most prominent burial artefacts in male graves in the Bronze Age were for grooming - razors made of bronze, tweezers, and an item possibly used for manicuring. "We have found traces of beard hair and possibly eyebrows on the razors, so they probably removed hair from various parts of the body," says Lisbeth Skogstrand, an archaeologist who has taken a gender perspective on men's burial mounds. Her doctoral dissertation at the University of Oslo tries to show how masculinity in Scandinavia has changed during periods that lack a local written history. She has previously studied rock carvings from the same period. The motifs include men carrying weapons, and with oversized erections.
Skogstrand bases her ideas on hundreds of finds from graves in Norway and Denmark, including nearly 200 cremation graves in eastern Norway. Her study spans 1,500 years, from the Early Nordic Bronze Age from 1100-500 years BCE until 400 CE, during the late Roman Period, which was part of the Early Iron Age in Northern Europe.
Skogstrand says the finds show that being a warrior was not always the ideal. Men were buried with weapons particularly during a short span of the Roman Period, around 200 CE. Half of the men's graves she studied in this period contained spears, shields and other iron weapons. Women of the time were buried with tools such as scissors, knives and spindles. "The ideal of the man as a warrior did not last long. Over the course of the 3rd century the warrior nearly disappears from the graves," says Skogstrand.
Julie Lund, an associate professor of archaeology at the University of Oslo, thinks Skogstrand raises some legitimate questions. "There has been too little focus on male roles in archaeology. When researchers have studied gender they have been more concerned about women," she says.
Scandinavian prehistory has a blank spot in the last 500 years BCE where Skogstrand cannot determine anything about changes in masculine ideals. The graves from this period contain few artefacts. Perhaps the razors were no longer included as grave goods for some other reason than a change in fashion. Skogstrand points out, for instance, that shaving could have become so common that the elite no longer deemed razors a status symbol.
Men and women were buried with the same type of objects in the younger graves that Skogstrand studied, from 200 CE to 400 CE - an indication that gender became less important, while social status gained significance - the tools that men and women were buried with varied according to how costly the graves were.
Edited from ScienceNordic (3 October 2014)
First ever excavation on Skomer Island
Skomer Island, off the coast of Pembrokeshire (Wales), is a bird and wildlife sanctuary under the control of The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. Until recently no archaeological intrusive investigations had been allowed on the island.
Now a group from the Royal Commission in Aberystwyth (Wales) have been allowed to excavate the remains of a roundhouse settlement and surrounding fields. When digging in a fire (or cooking) mound they uncovered a cattle tooth, blackthorn charcoal and worked flint tools. Radiocarbon dating has placed the cattle tooth at late Iron Age, the worked flint tools at Neolithic or Bronze Age, and the blackthorn charcoal at early Iron Age.
Dr Toby Driver, of the archaeological team, is quoted as saying "Skomer is a fragile protected landscape and our archaeological research to date has focussed on non-invasive investigation of the prehistoric fields and settlements. This has included new aerial photography, airborne laser scanning, ground geophysics and walkover surveys. These new dates confirm pre-Roman settlement on Skomer. Even so, the burnt mound covers a substantial earlier field wall showing that the island was already well settled and farmed in previous centuries".
Edited from Culture24 (6 October 2014)
Greek Bronze Age re-evaluated thanks to statistical methodology
The origins of Bayesian statistical methodology can be traced back to Thomas Bayes in the 18th Century CE, who developed Bayes' Theorem, which relates current to prior belief and current to prior evidence.
The use of this complex mathematics in conjunction with radiocarbon analysis has allowed a team of archaeologists from the University of Oxford (UK) and the Akademie der Wissenschaften Heidelberg (Germany) to re-evaluate the timing of the end of the Greek Bronze Age. A combination of 60 artefacts, plant remains and bones were examined and dated, using the above combination of techniques, at approximately 1125 BCE, almost 100 years earlier than previously thought.
Dr Ken Wardle, of the University of Birmingham (UK), is quoted as saying "If we accept the 14C radiocarbon dating - and there is no good reason not to - we have to rethink our understanding of a long sequence of dates from the middle of the 14th Century BCE to the beginning of the 11th Century BCE. This is a fundamental reassessment and is important not just for Greece but in the wider Mediterranean context. It affects the way in which we understand the relationships between different areas, including the hotly debated dates of development in Israel and Spain".
Edited from PlosOne (15 September 2014) and EurekAlert! (9 October 2014)
13 October 2014
Prehistoric pit discovered on Irish beach
Archaeologists have discovered signs of human habitation, possibly dating back 4,000 years, on Sligo's Coney Island (Ireland). A box-like structure built from large stone slabs found on the island may have been used for bathing or cooking during the Bronze Age, experts believe. It has been excavated by a team led by Eamonn Kelly, director of Irish Antiquities at the National Museum.
Measuring about a metre long and 80cm wide, the structure is thought to be part of a fulacht fiadh, a prehistoric trough or pit that was dug into the ground and filled with water. Stones, heated separated on an outdoor hearth, would be added to bring the water to boil.
The ancient structure was recently identified as an archaeological site by Ciaran Davis, an archaeology student at IT Sligo, and native of nearby Rosses Point, who alerted the museum. "It tells us that people walked the beach here 3,000 or 4,000 years ago, searched for large stone slabs, and carefully built this structure," said Mr Davis. "Many other archaeological sites probably await discovery on Coney."
There are thousands of Bronze Age fulacht fiadh throughout Ireland, but to find one on a beach is a rare event, said Dr Marion Dowd, a lecturer at IT Sligo. "I know of one other example in Cork. It makes us wonder why they would have wanted to heat saltwater." Hot water was typically used for cooking, bathing, washing, dyeing textiles and brewing alcohol, but the use of saltwater meant brewing was not the purpose of the Coney island device, Dr Dowd said.
The structure has been known locally as the 'lovers' wishing well', said Dr Dowd. The legend was that anyone who lay inside it would dream of the person they were going to marry. It was also known as 'the sailor's grave'. Mr Kelly said it was "quite extraordinary" that the structure had remained undisturbed despite being known to local people for decades. "It shows the absolute respect the community has for it, perhaps because some thought it was the grave of a sailor." he said.
Edited from The Irish Times (11 September 2014)
Early humans in Saudi Arabia were a diverse lot, says study
In studies about early human dispersals out of Africa into Asia, scientists have long debated how, when and who moved into the Arabian Peninsula tens of thousands of years ago, and even further back in time. In recent years, researchers have been discovering sites across the Arabian Peninsula that bear on the entire time spectrum of human prehistory, beginning with the Lower Paleolithic (dating arguably in some cases to possibly more than one million years ago).
No longer regarded as a cul-de-sac for studies on human evolution and dispersals, the area has quickly emerged as a major theater for exploration and scholarship in the evolving story of early humans and their dispersal across the globe. Now, in a study conducted by Eleanor M.L. Scerri of the Universite de Bordeaux and colleagues, researchers have quantitatively tested the hypothesis that lithic (stone) tool assemblages uncovered at the site of Jubbah in the Nefud Desert of northern Saudi Arabia exhibited similarities with Middle Stone Age (MSA) stone tools found in northeast Africa. These artifacts are said to have been produced by modern human populations in northeast Africa between 280,000 and 50-25,000 years ago.
What they found has produced a picture more complicated than expected. By analyzing the process the toolmakers used to form their tools, they determined that a mixed demography of early humans occupied the area, as opposed to a homogenous grouping.
"While two Jubbah lithic assemblages [at locations JKF-1 and JKF-12] display both similarities and differences with the northeast African assemblages," write Scerri et al. in the research abstract of their report, "a third locality (JSM-1) was significantly different to both the other Arabian and African assemblages, indicating an unexpected diversity of assemblages in the Jubbah basin during Marine Isotope Stage 5 (MIS 5, ∼125-70,000 years ago, or ka). Along with evidence from southern Arabia and the Levant, our results add quantitative support to arguments that MIS 5 hominin demography at the interface between Africa and Asia was complex."
Edited from Popular Archaeology (10 September 2014)
12 October 2014
Ancient Harappan reservoir dwarfs that of Mohenjo Daro
A 5,000-year-old stepwell has been found in one of the largest Harappan cities - Dholavira, near the Arabian Sea, in what is now western India. Rectangular, 73.4 metres long, 29.3 metres wide, and 10 metres deep, it is the largest, grandest, and best furnished ancient reservoir discovered so far in the country.
"This is almost three times bigger than the Great Bath of Mohenjo Daro that's 12 metres in length, 7 metres in width, and 2.4 metres in depth," said superintending archaeologist VN Prabhakar. "We will conduct spot analysis in December as various surveys have indicated other reservoirs and stepwells may be buried in Dholavira," Prabhakar continues. "We also suspect a huge lake and an ancient shoreline are buried in the archaeological site that's one of the five largest Harappan sites and the most prominent archaeological site in India belonging to the Indus Valley civilisation."
Experts will use 3D laser scanning, remote sensing technology, and ground-penetrating radar to investigate the advanced hydraulic engineering used by Harappans for building the stepwell. "We will study how water flowed into the well and what was the idea behind water conservation," says Prabhakar. The team will also excavate various tanks, stoneware, finely furnished brick blocks, sanitation chambers and semi-precious stones hidden at the site.
Precious stones like carnelian were in great demand during the Harappan era. Gujarat was the hub of bead and craft manufacturing industries. "Agate carnelian beads were also coveted," Prabhakar says.
Other scientists are studying the various forms of pottery unearthed from the site to identify the diet followed by Harappans. "Through pottery typology, we'll find out whether different communities lived in Dholavira," Rai said. The team will also analyse precious copper and bronze artefacts.
Edited from The Times of India (8 October 2014)
10 October 2014
Bronze Age palace and grave goods discovered in Spain
Archaeologists from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) shed light on the rich historical and archaeological heritage of the site of La Almoloya, located in Murcia (Spain). A silver diadem discovered in the royal tomb is the only one from that era conserved in Spain.
An excavation conducted in August by the researchers of the UAB's Department of Prehistory Vicente Lull, Cristina Huete, Rafael Micó y Roberto Risch has made evident the unique archaeological wealth of the site, cradle of the 'El Argar' civilisation which lived in the south-eastern part of the Iberian Peninsula during the Bronze Age.
The findings indicate that La Almoloya was a primary centre of politics and wealth within the political territory of El Argar and sheds new light on the politics and gender relations in one of the first urban societies of the West.
The discoveries made by the archaeological team include an urban tissue made up of fully equipped buildings, as well as dozens of tombs, most of them including grave goods. The excavations indicate that the La Almoloya plateau, of 3,800 metres square, was densely populated and included several residential complexes of some 300 square metres, with eight to twelve rooms in each residence. The buildings' walls were constructed with stones and argamasa, and covered with layers of mortar. Some parts contain stucco decorated with geometric and naturalistic motifs, a novelty which represents the discovery of an Argaric artistic style.
Among the discoveries made is a wide hall with high ceilings measuring some 70 square metres, with capacity for 64 people seated on the benches lining the walls. The hall includes a ceremonial fireplace and a podium of symbolic character. Archaeologists consider that this unique building must have been used to celebrate hearings or government meetings. It is the first time a building specifically dedicated to governing purposes has been discovered in Western Europe. The hall and adjoining rooms make up a large building which the archaeologists have classified as a palace. They highlight the fact that only the most important of Oriental civilisations had similar constructions during the Bronze Age, with comparable structures and functions.
Of the fifty tombs excavated from under the La Almoloya buildings, one stands out in particular. Located in a privileged area, next to the main wall of the hall, the tomb reveals the remains of a man and woman buried with their bodies in a flexed position and accompanied by some thirty objects containing precious metals and semi-precious stones.
One of the most outstanding pieces is a silver diadem which encircled the skull of the woman. Four ear dilators, which are unusual objects for the Bronze Age, were also discovered; two are made of solid gold and two of silver. One of the most admirable items is nonetheless a small ceramic cup with the rim and outer part covered in fine layers of silver and which constitutes a pioneering example of silverwork on vessels. The last item worth mentioning is a metallic punch with a bronze tip and a handle forged in silver.
The team in charge of the archaeological dig at La Almoloya is led by Vicente Lull, Rafael Micó, Cristina Rihuete and Roberto Risch, professors of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. The same team had previously made important discoveries at the La Bastida site, another dig site in Murcia from the Bronze Age.
Edited from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (8 October 2010)
Neanderthal human remains found in Normandy
Despite numerous sites of great antiquity having been excavated since the end of the 19th century, Middle Pleistocene human fossils are still extremely rare in northwestern Europe. However, archaeologists have discovered some 200,000-year-old Neanderthal human remains in Normandy (France).
The three long Neanderthal bones - from the same left upper limb - found in September at Tourville-la-Rivière in Normandy and exhibited in Paris are human fossils which are extremely rare in this part of Europe. The remains are attributable to the Neanderthal lineage - in the Middle Pleistocene era - and are aged between 236,000 and 183,000 years.
The open-air site of Tourville-la-Rivière was discovered in 1967 as a sand and gravel quarry and has since been monitored by archaeologists. It is the second time such remains have been found in France. In the 1980s two partial crania from this period were excavated from Biache-Saint-Vaast in northern France. All known human fossils from this period have been found from ten sites in either Germany or England.
The three bones most probably belong to an adult or an older adolescent but archaeologists said they were unable to tell if it's a male or female remain.
Edited from PlosOne (8 October 2014), RFI (9 october 2014)
9 October 2014
Cave paintings in Indonesia shatter theories about the origin of art
Scientists have identified some of the earliest cave paintings produced by humans. The artworks are in a rural area on the Indonesian Island of Sulawesi. Until now, paintings this old had been confirmed in caves only in Western Europe. Researchers said that the Indonesian discovery transforms ideas about how humans first developed the ability to produce art.
Australian and Indonesian scientists have dated layers of stalactite-like growths that have formed over coloured outlines of human hands. Early artists made them by carefully blowing paint around hands that were pressed tightly against the cave walls and ceilings. The oldest is at least 40,000 years old. There are also depictions of human figures, and pictures of wild animals that are found only on the island.
Dr Maxime Aubert, of Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, who dated the paintings found in Maros in Southern Sulawesi, explained that a faint outline of a human hand was probably the earliest of its type. "The minimum age for (the outline of the hand) is 39,900 years old, which makes it the oldest hand stencil in the world," said Dr Aubert. "Next to it is a pig that has a minimum age of 35,400 years old, and this is one of the oldest figurative depictions in the world, if not the oldest one," he said.
There are also paintings in the caves that are around 27,000 years old, which means that the inhabitants were painting for at least 13,000 years. In addition, there are paintings in a cave in the regency of Bone, 100 km north of Maros. These cannot be dated because the stalactite-like growths used to determine the age of the art do not occur. But the researchers believe that they are probably the same age as the paintings in Maros because they are stylistically identical.
For decades, the only evidence of ancient cave art was in Spain and southern France. It led some to believe that the creative explosion that led to the art and science we know today began in Europe. But the discovery of paintings of a similar age in Indonesia shatters this view, according to Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London. "It is a really important find; it enables us to get away from this Euro-centric view of a creative explosion that was special to Europe and did not develop in other parts of the world until much later," he said.
The discovery of 40,000-year-old cave paintings at opposite ends of the globe suggests that the ability to create representational art had its origins further back in time in Africa, before modern humans spread across the rest of the world. "That's kind of my gut feeling," says Prof Stringer. "The basis for this art was there 60,000 years ago; it may even have been there in Africa before 60,000 years ago and it spread with modern humans".
Dr Adam Brumm, who is the co-leader of the Sulawesi research, believes many well-known sites in Asia, and as far away as Australia, contain art that is extremely old but which has not yet been accurately dated. "If Sulawesi is anything to go by, where cave art was first recorded over half a century ago but was assumed to be young, a crucial part of the human story could be right under our noses" he said.
Dr Muhammad Ramli, an archaeologist working with the Makassar branch of Indonesia's Preservation for Heritage Office, said that the Sulawesian paintings in Maros were being eroded by the pollution coming from an upsurge in local industrial activities. "In the beginning of the 1980s, there were a lot of cave paintings on this site in the form of hand stencils, as you can see right now. Presently, a lot has been damaged. There is a strong necessity to conduct conservation studies in order to find the best way of preserving these sites so that the paintings may last," he said.
Edited from BBC News (8 October 2014)