Oldest Cave Paintings Across the World

By Rohin Raj on Jan 08, 2019
* Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission if you click a link and book something (there is never any extra cost to you for using these links).
Ever since mankind has evolved and wandered the face of the Earth, it has always had one single ambition. To leave its mark on the planet, before being churned in the great wheel of time has been its biggest passion. And what better way to achieve it other than indulging in the oldest form of art, that is, painting and sculpting? Ever since humans could imagine and hold a tool in their arm, they’ve been keeping themselves busy scribbling and drawing away figures in various caves and shelters all over the globe.
Now, this brings us to the question what is cave art? Paintings and sketches dating back to the prehistoric times and made on the walls and ceilings of caves are termed as cave art. And here are some of the oldest cave paintings across the world that will definitely leave you stupefied, amazed and gasping for breath all at the same time!

1. Sulawesi Cave Art - Indonesia

ancient cave paintings 

Image Source: youtube

Sulawesi is popularly called the Madagascar of Indonesia and has seen signs of human colonization from over 50,000 years ago. In the 1950s few caves were discovered on the beautiful island which had a number of ancient looking wall paintings and rock art. Because of the tropical climate and preserved condition of the paintings, they were estimated to be only around 10,000 years old.
But archaeologists were left astounded when using modern technologies they dated a few of the specimens and found it to be almost 35,000 to 40,000 years old making them one of the oldest cave paintings in the world! So if you were wondering what is the oldest art in the world? You know the answer now! Most of the paintings are made from a naturally occurring paint and the drawings usually are of the local animals. A very popular artwork is the hand stencil, which was made by keeping the hand on the wall and then spraying paint on it using a pipe or from the mouth! A type of centuries old autograph perhaps?

2. El Castillo Cave Paintings - Spain

 oldest cave paintings in the world 

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
One of Spain’s most treasured archaeological site, the prehistoric cave paintings of El Castillo or as they are referred to locally, The Cueva de El Castillo is a sight extraordinaire! Tests have dated some of the artworks done on the walls to be almost 40,800 years old while others vary from the Lower Paleolithic, Bronze to the Middle Ages even. Here too most of the paintings are of hand stencils, abstract figures or a few local animals. This one of the most amazing caves in the world is a haven for history buffs and the great facilities make visiting a pleasant and memorable experience for tourists. 

3. Chauvet Cave - France

historic cave paintings  

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
In the history of cave paintings, the Chauvet Cave in France is probably the most popular and well-known site for its pieces of art from the ancient past. The cave paintings unlike most of the others are very well preserved and give a very good idea about life in the ancient ages. In these caves some other items like artifacts and animal markings and fossils were also discovered, making the caves a treasure trove of knowledge. Mainly one can find paintings of animals of different species, but the difference here is that instead of herbivores, a lot of predators can be found here. Also, interesting works of art like the painting of an erupting volcano and 2 wooly rhinos battling each other are spectacular to look at.

4. Bhimbetka Rock Shelters - India

famous cave paintings  

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
The most famous cave paintings in the Indian subcontinent are also one of the oldest caves in the whole world and display the very earliest signs of human life in the area. Though the pictures are almost 30,000 years old, there signs to indicate that the Bhimbetka caves in India were inhabited by pre-human species even 100,000 years ago! The most common paintings are that of animals like tigers, rhinos and bison, of humans busy hunting or going about their daily chores and the pictures have been mostly drawn in red or green colors. Some animals like a giant boar are also depicted in the paintings, leading archaeologists to wonder if such giant beasts also existed during those periods!

5. Blombos Cave Engravings - South Africa

Blombos Cave Engravings  

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Blombos Cave is a prehistoric, archaeological site located on the Southern Cape coastline of South Africa. The site has large deposits of ochre rock engraved with a number of geometric signs, abstract symbols and beads and a number of stone tools. All of these excavations date back to anywhere between 70,000 to 100,000 years in the past! The discovery of such detailed inscriptions sheds a whole new light on the life of the pre-human and is wonderful to know that they too were highly capable of learning and understanding symbols and recreating animals.

6. Great Mural Rock Art - Baja California

Great Mural Rock Art  

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Great Mural Rock Art is a group of ancient human and animal paintings that are gigantic in size and cover the whole of the ceilings and walls of the rock shelters that they are painted in. Giving a fascinating sight, the figures are painted mainly in black and red colors, but in some of the drawings other colors like orange, white and green can also be seen. The main figurines are that of humans, rabbits, mountain sheep or deer. The paintings usually represent an activity like hunting or grazing, complete with arrows and spears being thrown at the animals. The sheer size of the murals is sure to completely amaze most of the visitors who come to Baja for a sneak-peek.

7. Pedra Furada Sites - Brazil

Paintings at Pedra Furada Sites  

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Pedra Furada in Portuguese translates to pierced rock and this site comprises of over 800 historic archaeological spots that are inundated with rock paintings, indicating the presence of intelligent humans in the area even before the period experts had believed to be. Tests have revealed that the various paintings range from 12,000 to 22,000 years ago. The paintings basically show the people indulging in their daily-life activities like ceremonial dances, leisure time and hunting in groups. Variations in the sketches with time show how the people gradually shifted from drawing with fingers to paintbrushes made from animal fur. The archaeological sites are totally worth a visit for all of those wanting to learn about the history of cave paintings across the ages.

8. Cueva de las Manos - Argentina

Cueva de las Manos  

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Cueva de las Manos is a series of caves in Argentina that are known for its splendid yet slightly freakish set of paintings dating back to the prehistoric period. There are a large number of hand stencils or silhouettes of the hand which is drawn by spraying paint at the hand kept on the wall. Thus the hand’s outline is sketched onto the wall. In fact, all the walls and ceiling of the caves are covered with such similar paintings. The paint was sprayed using pipes made from bones and a few of these instruments were also recovered from the caves. The Cueva de la Manos or the Cave of Hands are said to be 13,000 years to 9,000 years old, but still, all the artworks are in excellent condition, which is really a miracle!

9. Padah-Lin Caves - Myanmar

Padah-Lin Caves  

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Padah Lin limestone caves in Burma are located inside the Panlaung Reserved Forest and have been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List because of its splendid beauty and brilliant art pieces. A lot of artifacts like red ochre paintings, cupules and stone tools have been excavated from the site. The most common of these are the paintings of animals like bulls, deer, bison, fish and of course the famed human hands. Though the paintings have been dated to the Neolithic period (10,000 years ago), some other items have been dated to as long back as 16,000 years.

10. Cave of Swimmers and Cave of Beasts - Egypt

drawings on Cave of Swimmers and Cave of Beasts 

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Egypt has been the cradle of great civilizations in the past, and thus it should not come as a huge surprise that a few of the oldest cave paintings in the world are located in this very country. The Cave of Swimmers and Cave of Beasts are two of the most marvelous attractions of Egypt and are an absolute must visit for history buffs and tourists interested in prehistoric sights. The Cave of Swimmers is so called because most of the paintings here are of people with limbs bent as if they were swimming. Some archaeologists claim this indicates that the whole area was made up of a huge lake, while others have different theories.
In the Cave of Beasts, there are almost 5000 figurine paintings of mythical beasts, drawn with extreme detailing and usually around human beings. Apart from the hand stencils, there are also paintings of the feet in the rock shelter. The caves are dated 10,000 years and 7,000 years respectively and whether the work of fact or fiction, are certainly worth a long visit.
Were you too blown away with this list of the oldest cave paintings in the world? Know some more fascinating places that we should add to this list? Please do tell us too by just writing in the comments section below!
*Note: Some images used for represantational purposes only 
Related Articles