Man Stumbles Into Ancient Cave, Finds 200,000-Year-Old Treasure


The Secrets Of History

Here’s one thing about the past: it remains hidden and unknown until someone finds out about it. And still, the past can only be discovered through its traces. And only through those that have remained in the world until the present.

Sometimes, these traces are hard to find and even harder to interpret. We can know that something is telling us about the past, but it can be hard to know what exactly it tells us. This was the case with some testimony of the past that was found in the mountains of Tibet.

The Story Of Gyalwa


In 1982, Gyalwa was a shepherd in Quesang, a region in the Tibetan Plateau. He used to wander around the mountains taking care of his goats.

Most days were tranquil and easy for him. He enjoyed the sights, as well as the peace and silence that could be enjoyed in the mountains. But that day would be different.

Sudden Disappearance


Gyalwa always used to bring a dog with him to help him take care of the cattle. It had always been a great shepherd dog: it never got lost, it kept the goats in line and it was great company in the loneliness of the mountains.

But one day in 1982, something happened while Gyalwa was taking a nap. The dog disappeared.



The goats’ bleats woke Gyalwa out of his sleep. He looked around, trying to get back to his senses and make sure everything was alright. But something was wrong: he couldn’t find his dog.

Alarmed, he started looking for it among the rocky hills.

Disappeared Without Trace

Wikimedia Commons

He couldn’t lose that dog. It helped him greatly at the job and he didn’t make enough money to get a new one. Not only that: it was one of his best friends.

But the dog was nowhere to be found.

There Was One Cave

Camk Kargita

Almost desperate, Gyalwa found a cave in one of the mountains’ walls. It was deep and dark and he felt a bit scared about getting in there. But he couldn’t find the dog anywhere. If it died in the darkness of that dark cave, Gyalwa would never be able to forgive himself.

Gyalwa tried to conquer his fear and he entered the cave.

Into The Cave

TED Ideas

Fortunately enough, the dog was there. Gyalwa felt strongly relieved and ran to hug the dog, which was scared and moaning, leaning against one of the cave’s walls.

But it was then when Gyalwa saw something that he didn’t expect.

The Great Discovery


Over one of the cave’s walls, there were some imprints of hands and feet. The imprints were small as if made by a child or a small living being close enough to a human. Gyalwa found them a bit eerie.

He picked up his dog, left the cave, and told his village about the discovery. From that moment, plenty of rumours and legends of sorts were made up all around the region in an attempt to explain the origin of those strange imprints. But the truth wouldn’t come out until more than 30 years later.

The Scholars Step In

The conversation

In 2018, the imprints called the eye of the academic community. David Zhang, a Chinese archeologist, had heard plenty of legends and rumours about the hand imprints of Quesang. He decided to investigate them by his own means.

What he found out was an unprecedented discovery in the history of archeology and perhaps one of the most important findings ever about our past as a species.

Oldest Cave Art Ever


The hand imprints, naturally, had been the work of prehistoric humans. But there was a surprising detail about them.

And that was their dating. The imprints were more than 200,000 years old, which made them the oldest piece of parietal or cave art ever found. To put things in perspective, the oldest known cave painting is only about 64,000 years old.

The Authors Of The Imprints

The Times

This was not the only surprising thing about the imprints in Quesang. After studying them, Zhang concluded that they were made by two children: one of the age of 7, the other of the age of 12.

If that were true, not only would we be talking about the oldest piece of cave art ever, but also about the first one ever found that was the work of children. However, how did they do the imprints?

How Were They Made?


The answer is simple: at the beginning, the surface on which the hands were imprinted was mud. But after millennia, the mud had solidified (lithified is the technical term) into the travertine, a type of rock.

But still, one question remained about this primigene work of art.

Are They Really Art?

Zhang et al _ Science Bulletin

Were the imprints the result of deliberate and intentional action? In other words: did the children who imprinted their hands in the mud actually intend to create an image on its surface?

If and only if the answer to that question is positive can we be sure that the imprints of Quesang are a work of parietal art? If they were not created for the sake of its visual aspect, but just the result of playing with or touching the mud with no further intention, then it’s unjustified to call them a work of art.

Academic Controversy

Nikkei Asia

Different scholars are divided about this question. Zhang, of course, has tried to make his discovery as big as possible: it is quite a merit to have discovered the most ancient piece of art in the world.

Others are more skeptical. For instance, Pablo Mayoral, a Spanish paleontologist, declared: “I find it difficult to think that there is an ‘intentionality’ in this design. And I don’t think there are scientific criteria to prove it—it is a question of faith, and of wanting to see things in one way or another.”

The Mysteries Of History

Gabriel Ugeto

Maybe we’ll never know. As was said at the beginning of this article, the past is something that can only be known indirectly; there are some things about it that we will never be able to know.

But isn’t it appealing to think that the drive for art and the search for beauty has always been present in the spirit of humanity, even within those Tibetan children from 200,000 years ago?