Archaeologists have uncovered the world’s oldest known rock painting: a life-size image of a wild pig that was taken at least 45,500 years ago in Indonesia.
The discovery described in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday provides the first evidence of human settlement in the region.
Co-author Maxime Aubert of Griffith University in Australia told TBEN he was found on the island of Sulawesi in 2017 by doctoral student Basran Burhan, as part of investigations by the team with the Indonesian authorities.
Leang Tedongnge Cave is located in a secluded valley surrounded by steep limestone cliffs, about an hour’s walk from the nearest road.
It is only accessible during the dry season due to flooding during the rainy season – and members of the isolated Bugis community told the team it has never been seen by Westerners before.
Measuring 136 by 54 centimeters (53 by 21 inches), the Sulawesi warty pig has been painted with a dark red ocher pigment and has a short ridge of erect hairs, as well as a pair of horn-shaped facial warts characteristic of males. adults of the species.
There are two handprints above the pig’s hindquarters, and it appears to be facing two other pigs that are only partially preserved, as part of a narrative scene.
“The pig appears to be observing a fight or social interaction between two other warty pigs,” said co-author Adam Brumm.
Humans have hunted the warty pigs of Sulawesi for tens of thousands of years, and they are a key feature of the region’s prehistoric artwork, especially during the Ice Age.
First human migration
Aubert, a dating specialist, identified a calcite deposit that had formed on top of the paint, then used isotopic dating from the Uranium series to say with certainty that the deposit was 45,500 years old.
This makes the painting at least that old, “but it could be a lot older because the dating we’re using only dates the calcite above,” he explained.
“The people who did it were totally modern, they were like us, they had all the ability and the tools to do any painting they liked,” he added.
The oldest dated rock art painting was found by the same team in Sulawesi. He represented a group of half-human, half-animal figures hunting mammals, and was at least 43,900 years old.
Cave paintings like these also help fill in the gaps in our understanding of early human migrations.
People are known to have arrived in Australia 65,000 years ago, but they probably should have passed through the islands of Indonesia, known as “Wallacea”.
This site now represents the oldest evidence of humans for Wallacea, but it is hoped that further research will help show that people were in the area much earlier, which would solve the Australian colony puzzle.
The team believe the artwork was made by Homo sapiens, as opposed to now extinct human species like the Denisovans, but can’t say for sure.
To make handprints, the artists would have had to place their hands on a surface and then spit pigments on it, and the team hopes to try and extract TBEN samples from the residual saliva.
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