The team's discovery of cave art on the island of Sulawesi, estimated to be about 40,000 years old, challenges the idea that the oldest artwork had originated in Spain and France, Xinhua reported.

An Australian geochemist from Griffith University said he was stunned when he tested the samples from the cave and realized how old the art was.

The team's study dates the earliest image, a hand stencil, to be at least 39,900 years old, 900 years prior to the world's oldest known cave painting, a red disc in Spain.

The series of Indonesian images discovered also includes pig-like animals painted more than 35,400 years ago, possibly older than the earliest known figurative rock art in western Europe a painted rhinoceros in France, estimated to be between 35,300 and 38,800 years old.

The report said the sheer volume of ancient cave art in Europe had pointed to the theory that the human capacity for abstract thinking originated there, but the new discovery makes the case that this development was occurring in Asia at the same time.

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