Art and the ability to think of abstract concepts is what distinguishes our species from other animals - capabilities that also led us to use fire, develop the wheel and come up with the other technologies that have made our kind so successful.
Its emergence, therefore, marks one of the key moments when our species became truly human.
The dating of the art in Sulawesi will mean that ideas about when and where this pivotal moment in our evolution occurred will now have to be revised.
For decades, the only evidence of ancient cave art was in Spain and southern France. It led some to believe that the creative explosion that led to the art and science we know today began in Europe.
But the discovery of paintings of a similar age in Indonesia shatters this view, according to Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London.
"It is a really important find; it enables us to get away from this Euro-centric view of a creative explosion that was special to Europe and did not develop in other parts of the world until much later," he said.