When my sons were toddlers they spent many an afternoon at the playground of our apartment complex with their friends as part of an organized play group. I observed that arts and crafts were the children’s favorite activities. It seems that the desire for artistic expression is innate to the human spirit.
In fact, rapid development of artistic expression (known as one of the cultural “big bangs”) marks humanity’s origin and demonstrates human beings’ unique capacity for symbolic thought and meditation. Recently, a team of French and Romanian anthropologists uncovered additional evidence for the idea of such a cultural big bang.1 The team followed up on a previous discovery by amateur spelunkers in the Coliboaia Cave in northwestern Romania’s Apuseni Nature Park.
The Coliboaia Cave was first found thirty years ago. However, the original discoverers failed to find any paintings on the cave walls due to an underground river that floods most of Coliboaia’s galleries. In September 2009, a group of Romanian amateur spelunkers used diving equipment to explore the flooded caves. They found six drawings of animals, including a bison, a horse, two bears, a rhinoceros, and what may be either another rhinoceros or a mammoth.
The French-Romanian anthropology team verified that the art is prehistoric. They determined that the cave paintings are most likely more than 30,000 years old and could even be as old as 35,000 years. The researchers also noted that the water must have destroyed other paintings.
Previous to the Coliboaia Cave discovery the oldest known cave art was found in France’s Chauvet Cave and dated at 32,400 years ago.2 Consequently, the drawings in Coliboaia could set a new record for the oldest known evidence of artistic expression.
Whatever the age established for the Coliboaia drawings, the result will confirm that the earliest humans engaged in artistic endeavors. They did so at a level comparable to today’s artists (taking into account the technological differences between then and now).
Creative ability did not evolve in the human species. Rather, it originated suddenly and in fully developed form with the emergence of the human race. Furthermore, art appeared in different locations at the same time. Ancient cave drawings have been discovered in Spain, France, Romania, and Siberia. In all these cases the art form is similar.
We’d suggest that a common art culture was sustained through the great migration events recorded in Genesis 10–11 (recent DNA studies into the past history of humanity help confirm this suggestion).3 Once again, scientific discovery affirms humanity’s unique spiritual and cultural nature (both part of the image of God) as well as the biblical accounts of human origin and history.
1. Michael Balter, “Romanian Cave May Boast Central Europe’s Oldest Cave Art,” ScienceNOW, June 21, 2010, referenced in Science 328 (June 25, 2010): 1607.
2. Roger Lewin, Principles of Human Evolution: A Core Textbook (Malden, MA: Blackwell Science, 1998), 469–74.
3. Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross, Who Was Adam? (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2005), 123–37.