Analysing ancient rock art across South-east Asia, researchers have found that the art originated with our ancestors in Africa, not Europe as some claimed.
The earliest people in South-east Asia, hunter-gatherers who arrived over 50,000 years ago, brought with them this rich art practice, which helped them to produce exquisite paintings of animals in rock shelters from south-west China to Indonesia, the findings showed.
“The research supports the idea suggested by the early Indonesian rock art dates that modern humans brought the practice of making semi-permanent images in rocky landscapes to Europe and Asia from Africa,” said lead researcher Paul Tacon, professor at the Griffith University in Queensland, Australia.
“As with the early art of Europe, the oldest South-east Asian images often incorporated or were placed in relation to natural features of rock surfaces,” Tacon added.
Besides China and Indonesia, early rock art sites were also recorded in Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia.
The oldest paintings were identified by analysing overlapping superimpostions of art in various styles as well as numerical dating.
It was found that the oldest art mainly consisted of naturalistic images of wild animals.
The findings appeared in the archaeological journal Antiquity.
The global implications of the early surviving rock art of greater Southeast Asia. Paul S.C. Taçon, Noel Hidalgo Tan, Sue O’Connor, Ji Xueping, Li Gang, Darren Curnoe, David Bulbeck, Budianto Hakim, Iwan Sumantri, Heng Than, Im Sokrithy, Stephen Chia, Khuon Khun?Neay and Soeung Kong. Antiquity, Volume: 88 Number: 342 Page: 1050–1064
The rock art of Southeast Asia has been less thoroughly studied than that of Europe or Australia, and it has generally been considered to be more recent in origin. New dating evidence from Mainland and Island Southeast Asia, however, demonstrates that the earliest motifs (hand stencils and naturalistic animals) are of late Pleistocene age and as early as those of Europe. The similar form of the earliest painted motifs in Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia suggests that they are the product of a shared underlying behaviour, but the difference in context (rockshelters) indicates that experiences in deep caves cannot have been their inspiration.