These 200,000-Year-Old Hands and Footprints May Be the World’s Oldest Rock Art | Smart News

Whether ten hands and footprints constitute art is up for debate, the researchers say.
DD Zhang et al. / Scientific Bulletin

From 169,000 to 226,000 years ago, two children in what is now Quesang, Tibet, left handprints and footprints on a travertine rock. Apparently placed intentionally, the now fossilized prints could be the oldest known cave or rock art in the world, according to a new study published in the journal Scientific Bulletin suggests.

According to a statement, experts used uranium series to locate the creation of the engravings in the middle of the Pleistocene. The ten impressions – five handprints and five footprints – are three to four times older than comparable cave paintings in Indonesia, France and Spain.

“The question is: what does this mean? How do we interpret these fingerprints? They are clearly not accidentally placed, ”study co-author Thomas Urban, a scientist at Cornell University’s Tree-Ring Laboratory, said in the statement.

The discovery offers the first evidence for the presence of hominids on the Tibetan Plateau, write co-authors Matthew R. Bennett and Sally C. Reynolds for the Conversation. Moreover, the two men point out, the results corroborate previous research indicating that children were among the first artists.

These 200,000-year-old hands and footprints may be the world's oldest rock art

Researchers discovered the prints in 2018.

DD Zhang et al. / Scientific Bulletin

As GizmodoIsaac Schultz reports that archaeologists found the hand and footprints – believed to belong to a 12 and 7-year-old child, respectively – near the Quesang hot spring in 2018. Although cave art usually appears on the walls of the caves, examples have also been found on cave floors.

“The way footprints are made during normal activity such as walking, running, jumping is well understood, including things like sliding,” says Urban. Gizmodo. “These prints, however, are made with more care and have a specific arrangement – think more along the lines. [of] how a child presses his handprint into fresh cement.

Considering their size and estimated age, the prints were likely left by members of the genus Homo. Individuals may have been Neanderthals or Denisovans rather than Homo sapiens.

As scholars note for the Conversation, hand shapes often appear in prehistoric rock art. Early artists typically fashioned these prints with stencils and pigments, which they placed along the outer edges of their hands.

According to the study, the question of whether the newly analyzed prints can actually be classified as art is part of a “considerable debate” over what constitutes s.

This touches on a very fundamental question of what it really means to be human.

Bennett, a geologist at the University of Bournemouth who specializes in footprints and old tracks, says Gizmodo that the placement of the impressions seems intentional: “It is the composition, which is deliberate, the fact that the traces were not made by normal locomotion, and the care taken so that one trace does not overlap the next, all this shows deliberate care. “

Other experts are more skeptical.

“I find it difficult to think that there is any ‘intentionality’ in this design,” Eduardo Mayoral, a paleontologist at the University of Huelva in Spain who was not involved in the study, told Tom Metcalfe of NBC News. study. “And I don’t think there are any scientific criteria to prove it – it’s a matter of faith, and of wanting to see things one way or another.”

Urban, for his part, argues that the study underscores the need for a broader definition of art.

“[W]We can argue that this is not utilitarian behavior, ”he said in the release. “There is something playful, creative, maybe symbolic about it. This touches on a very fundamental question of what it really means to be human. “