Oldest known figurative cave art discovered in Borneo

Griffith University researchers have dated cave paintings in Borneo to as early as 40,000 years ago, showing that these enigmatic artworks are among the world’s oldest examples of figurative depiction.

Oldest known figurative cave art discovered in Borneo
Composition of mulberry-coloured hand stencils superimposed over older reddish/orange hand stencils. 
The two styles are separated in time by at least 20,000 years [Credit: Kinez Riza]

This finding adds to the mounting view that cave art – one of the most important innovations in human cultural history – did not arise in Europe as long believed, and that ‘ice age’ artists in Southeast Asia played a key role in its development.
Since the 1990s, caves in remote and rugged mountains of East Kalimantan, an Indonesian province of Borneo, have been known to contain prehistoric paintings, drawings, and other imagery, including thousands of depictions of human hands (“stencils”), animals, abstract signs and symbols, and related motifs.

These near-inaccessible artworks are now known to be far older than previously thought, according to a study led by Griffith’s Associate Professor Maxime Aubert, along with Indonesia’s National Research Centre for Archaeology (ARKENAS), and the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), published in Nature.

Oldest known figurative cave art discovered in Borneo
Composition of mulberry-coloured hand stencils from East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. 
This particular style of hand stencil dates to the height of the Last Glacial Maximum 
about 20,000 years ago [Credit: Kinez Riza]

Associate Professor Aubert’s team reports Uranium-series dates obtained from calcium carbonate samples collected from the Kalimantan cave art, providing the first reliable estimates for the approximate time of rock art production.
“The oldest cave art image we dated is a large painting of an unidentified animal, probably a species of wild cattle still found in the jungles of Borneo – this has a minimum age of around 40,000 years and is now the earliest known figurative artwork,” Associate Professor Aubert said.

The Kalimantan stencil art was shown to be similar in age, suggesting that a Palaeolithic rock art tradition first appeared on Borneo between about 52,000 and 40,000 years ago.

Dating also indicated that a major change occurred within this culture around 20,000 years ago, giving rise to a new rock art style (including rare portrayals of humans) at a time when the global ice age climate was at its most extreme.
“Who the ice age artists of Borneo were and what happened to them is a mystery,” said team co-leader Dr Pindi Setiawan, an Indonesian archaeologist and lecturer at ITB. Setiawan has studied the art since its discovery, and, along with ARKENAS rock art expert Adhi Agus Oktaviana, leads expeditions to the Kalimantan caves.

“The new findings illustrate that the story of how cave art emerged is complex,” Oktaviana said.

Oldest known figurative cave art discovered in Borneo
Human figures from East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. This style is dated to at least 13,600 years ago 
but could possibly date to the height of the last Glacial Maximum 20,000 years ago 
[Credit: Pindi Setiawan]

Europe has long been seen as the centre for cave art development. But although Borneo is the Earth’s third largest island, throughout most of the ice age it actually formed the easternmost tip of the vast continental region of Eurasia – at the western extremity of this 13,000 km-wide landmass was Europe.
“It now seems that two early cave art provinces arose at a similar time in remote corners of Palaeolithic Eurasia: one in Europe, and one in Indonesia at the opposite end of this ice age world,” said Associate Professor Adam Brumm, a Griffith archaeologist also involved in the study.

A 2014 Nature paper published by Associate Professors Aubert and Brumm (with ARKENAS) revealed that similar cave art appeared in the island of Sulawesi about 40,000 years ago.

Oldest known figurative cave art discovered in Borneo
The worlds oldest figurative artwork from Borneo dated to a minimum of 40,000 years 
[Credit: Luc-Henri Fage]

Sulawesi lies off the edge of Eurasia and is a vital stepping-stone between Asia and Australia.

“Our research suggests that rock art spread from Borneo into Sulawesi and other new worlds beyond Eurasia, perhaps arriving with the first people to colonise Australia,” Associate Professor Aubert said.

Read The Conversation article

Source: Griffith University [November 07, 2018]



Satellite ‘compasses’ open new window on space weather

ESA – European Space Agency logo.

7 November 2018

Researchers have tested a clever new method of monitoring the impact of solar storms on Earth’s magnetic field, based on harnessing the compass-like magnetometers that space missions used to check their orientation.

Some satellites carry extremely sensitive magnetometers for scientific studies; these instruments are placed on booms, away from stray magnetic field sources inside the parent satellite.

Swarm constellation

But many more satellites host less sensitive magnetometers, called ‘platform magnetometers’ that work like compasses, measuring Earth’s magnetic field to check satellites are pointed in the correct position.

Might these platform magnetometers also be used to monitor space weather? An ESA-led research team consisting of Delft University of Technology and the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences mounted an investigation.

What is space weather?

ESA space environment researcher Fabrice Cipriani explains: “Quantifying the effects that solar storms have on Earth is extremely important to monitor and assess the impacts on sensitive infrastructure and so we want to exploit as many sources of data as possible that can provide meaningful information, especially when there are no major development costs involved.”

Researchers looked at data from ESA’s magnetic-field-mapping Swarm, gravity-mapping GOCE and technology-testing LISA Pathfinder missions to probe whether platform magnetometer data could also be used for monitoring changing space weather.

The team compared the data from Swarm’s scientific magnetometer with its platform magnetometer to determine the accuracy of the latter. They then applied this knowledge to an analysis of GOCE’s magnetometer. These were both low-Earth orbiting missions, providing a lot of information about Earth’s response to space weather. LISA Pathfinder, conversely, operated from an Earth-Sun Lagrange Point, 1.5 million km away.

LISA Pathfinder

Eelco Doornbos, from TU Delft explains: “LISA Pathfinder is positioned between Earth and the Sun, outside Earth’s magnetosphere. This gives it a great view of the solar wind.”

LISA Pathfinder’s platform magnetometer data was compared with that of US space weather observatories WIND, ACE and DSCOVR.

“We investigated data from LISA Pathfinder, which can observe the solar wind, and from Swarm and GOCE, observing magnetic field currents closer to Earth,” adds Dr. Doornbos. “In both cases the platform magnetometer data was good enough to receive a good signal, even when the magnetometer is not very precise and is close to other instruments.”


The team found that platform magnetometers can indeed provide excellent insights into space weather. Their usage could be fostered in future through developing new data processing techniques, relatively low cost compared to developing dedicated instruments and missions.

Traditionally platform magnetometer data are only sent to Earth so that engineers can check a satellite is working properly. The next step is to make this data accessible to more people.

Fabrice adds: “We want to encourage data users to be involved at an early design phase when developing new spacecraft, to help figure out how to enable easier access to the this data.”

Platform magnetometer

“Space weather is such a complicated system that changes so rapidly that the more observations you have, the better,” concludes Dr. Doornbos. “That’s why it’s great to get as many satellites as possible looking into it.”

This research was supported through ESA’s Discovery and Preparation programme, investigating promising new concepts for spaceflight.

Related links:

Space weather: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2018/11/What_is_space_weather

WIND: https://wind.nasa.gov/

ACE: https://science.nasa.gov/missions/ace

DSCOVR: https://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/content/dscovr-deep-space-climate-observatory

Swarm: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth/The_Living_Planet_Programme/Earth_Explorers/Earth_Explorers_-_Swarm

GOCE: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth/GOCE

LISA Pathfinder: http://sci.esa.int/lisa-pathfinder/

Discovery and Preparation article: ESA’s unexpected fleet of space weather monitors: https://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Preparing_for_the_Future/Discovery_and_Preparation/ESA_s_unexpected_fleet_of_space_weather_monitors

Delft University of Technology: https://www.tudelft.nl/en/

GFZ Research Centre for Geosciences: http://www.gfz-potsdam.de/en/home/

Images, Text, Credits: ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO/ZARM Technik AG.

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HiPOD (7 November 2018): Hide All You Want, Gullies!   – That…

HiPOD (7 November 2018): Hide All You Want, Gullies!

   – That shadow of Dunkasa Crater is no match for us, especially when we can use Photoshop to bring out your enhanced colors.  (253 km above the surface. Black and white is less than 5 km across; enhanced color is less than 1 km.)

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona