Sixty years ago, on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, a group of archaeologists discovered a series of paintings spread across 100 limestone caves. The images—rendered, by the time of their discovery, in sepias of varying saturations—featured stencil-like outlines of human hands and stick-legged animals in motion; they were in appearance, at least, quite similar to the cave paintings that had already been discovered, and made famous, in Spain and France.
The paintings were proto-graffiti. They were early versions of that car window in Titanic. They were humans, making their mark.
They were also, obviously, old. But they were not, it was thought, oooooold-old. They couldn't have been created, their finders figured, much more than 10,000 years ago. Had they been any older, everyone assumed, they would have faded away in the humid tropical air.
But you know what they say about assumptions. According to a paper published today in the journal Nature, those paintings, etched into those caves, are much older than those first scientists had thought. Tens of thousands of years older, in fact. So old that they are now thought to be the oldest known specimens of art in the world. If art is one of the things that make us human … then it seems we've been human for even longer than we've realized.