In November 2018, scientists reported the discovery of the oldest known figurative art painting, over 40,000 (perhaps as old as 52,000) years old, of an unknown animal, in the cave of Lubang Jeriji Saléh on the Indonesian island of Borneo.
Nearly 340 caves have now been discovered in France and Spain that contain art from prehistoric times.
The radiocarbon dates from these samples show that there were two periods of creation in Chauvet: 35,000 years ago and 30,000 years ago.
One of the surprises was that many of the paintings were modified repeatedly over thousands of years, possibly explaining the confusion about finer paintings that seemed to date earlier than cruder ones.
However, in analyzing hand prints and stencils in French and Spanish caves, Dean Snow of Pennsylvania State University has proposed that a proportion of them, including those around the spotted horses in Pech Merle, were of female hands. One example is the rock paintings of Astuvansalmi (3000–2500 BC) in the Saimaa area of Finland.
When Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola first encountered the Magdalenian paintings of the Altamira cave, Cantabria, Spain in 1879, the academics of the time considered them hoaxes.The next phase of surviving European prehistoric painting, the rock art of the Iberian Mediterranean Basin, was very different, concentrating on large assemblies of smaller and much less detailed figures, with at least as many humans as animals.This was created roughly between 10,000 and 5,500 years ago, and painted in rock shelters under cliffs or shallow caves, in contrast to the recesses of deep caves used in the earlier (and much colder) period.Pigments used include red and yellow ochre, hematite, manganese oxide and charcoal.Sometimes the silhouette of the animal was incised in the rock first, and in some caves all or many of the images are only engraved in this fashion, taking them somewhat out of a strict definition of "cave painting".The species found most often were suitable for hunting by humans, but were not necessarily the actual typical prey found in associated deposits of bones; for example, the painters of Lascaux have mainly left reindeer bones, but this species does not appear at all in the cave paintings, where equine species are the most common.Drawings of humans were rare and are usually schematic as opposed to the more detailed and naturalistic images of animal subjects. O'Hara, geologist, suggests in his book Cave Art and Climate Change that climate controlled the themes depicted.Although individual figures are less naturalistic, they are grouped in coherent grouped compositions to a much greater degree.The most common subjects in cave paintings are large wild animals, such as bison, horses, aurochs, and deer, and tracings of human hands as well as abstract patterns, called finger flutings.Hand stencils, made by placing a hand on the wall and blowing pigment at it (probably through a pipe of some kind), form a characteristic image of a roughly round area of solid pigment with the uncoloured shape of the hand in the centre, which may then be decorated with lines or dashes.These are often found in the same caves as other paintings, or may be the only form of painting in a location. Similar hands are also painted in the usual fashion.