The world's oldest artworks that are familiar to a great number of people are the Paleolithic cave paintings at Lascaux in France. They are thought to be around 17,000 years old. But examples of art have been found that go much further back. The problem with pinpointing the oldest art is the definition of art itself. Deliberate marking patterns in objects that have survived many thousands of years could have a practical purpose, or they could be a form of decoration or communication, either of which could be thought of as art. Archaeologists consider early art to be markings as a symbol representing something else. The problem is how we interpret what was symbolic and what had a practical use.
The question arose with the discovery of a toe bone from a giant deer found in a German cave. The bone has deliberate parallel and perpendicular markings, which appear to be an attempt at artistic expression. However, the bone was dated to 51,000 years ago, before Homo sapiens moved into Europe. The residents of the cave were known to be Neanderthals. It's not the first Neanderthal art discovered, but it does push the timeline back.
There is other evidence that art predates modern man all over the world, including some markings attributed to Homo erectus. But are they art? The problem is interpreting the meaning of these markings. We may never know for sure what those ancient marks were really for. Read about where we are in determining how old art is at LiveScience. -via Strange Company
(Image credit: John Strike for Live Science)