Oldest Directly Dated Rock Art in Southeast Asia Discovered in Cagayan


Prehistoric inhabitants of the Philippines have been drawing on cave walls 1,500 years before Christ was born. The cave drawings were discovered in Peñablanca town, Cagayan, and have just been confirmed to be 3,500 years old—making them the oldest directly dated rock art in Southeast Asia. The National Museum of the Philippines held a press conference that was streamed live on YouTube

“What makes this date so intriguing is that we still don’t know which group of people made the art 3,500 years ago,” said Andrea Jalandoni, National Museum of the Philippines research associate and research fellow at Griffith University, Australia. 

“There are two possible artist groups: The Agta or the Negrito group within the region, and Austronesians,” said Jalandoni. 

According to Jalandoni, the current understanding is that Austronesians arrived in the archipelago around 4,000 years ago in the area surrounding Peñablanca, while the Negritos walked on land bridges long before that. 

“We were hoping that by dating the art, we’d know which group made the art. If it was over 4,000 years old, we would know it was made by the Negrito group. But now, it’s still a mystery,” said Jalandoni. 

“Somebody stood in Peñablanca and drew this figure, perhaps not knowing that it would be viewed today,” she added. 

The map below shows where the cave art in Peñablanca was discovered, and the locations of other similar anthropomorphic cave arts in Southeast Asia.

Photo by National Museum of the Philippines.

What was happening around the world 3,500 years ago?

To put things in historical perspective, the cave art in Cagayan was made at a time when farming was slowly spreading in Europe, where inhabitants practiced agriculture with hunting and gathering. The cave art is younger than Stonehenge, whose first monument was built around 5,000 years ago, but older than the Maya Scripts that date back to 300 B.C.E. 

In Southeast Asia, humans were largely farmers and hunter-gatherers, who made their homes in thick rainforests. 

Photo by National Museum of the Philippines

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