Earliest known cave art by modern humans found in Indonesia
Pictures of human-like hunters and fleeing mammals dated to nearly 44,000 years old…
(Interjection – …and in an area of the world that, to me, logically conflicts with the “out of Africa” theory! BUT none of the cave art popularly discussed today is as early as that presented in “The First Signs” by Von Petzinger, where she has found various symbols on cave walls that appear to be consistent globally and also often associated with standard cave art. Another source – which currently escapes me – suggests much cave art was produced by tracing the illuminated outlines of carved or molded models…which also explains how some cave art can seem to ignore rough walls. ~ Don Chapin)
Hannah Devlin Science correspondent, Wed 11 Dec 2019 13.00 EST Last modified on Wed 11 Dec 2019 15.15 EST
The drawings are nearly twice as old as any previously known narrative scenes. Photograph: Ratno Sardi/Griffith University
Cave art depicting human-animal hybrid figures hunting warty pigs and dwarf buffaloes has been dated to nearly 44,000 years old, making it the earliest known cave art by our species.
The artwork in Indonesia is nearly twice as old as any previous hunting scene and provides unprecedented insights into the earliest storytelling and the emergence of modern human cognition.
Previously, images of this level of sophistication dated to about 20,000 years ago, with the oldest cave paintings believed to be more basic creations such as handprints.
“We were stunned by the implications of this image,” said Adam Brumm, an archaeologist at the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution at Griffith University. “This was just mind- boggling because this showed us that this was possibly the oldest rock art anywhere on the face of this planet.”
The painting, discovered in 2017, is one of hundreds in South Sulawesi, including a red hand stencil, which was dated to at least 40,000 years ago. But the latest finding is exceptional as it is more than twice as old as any previously known narrative scenes and hints at ancient myths and an early capacity for imagination.
“It suggested to us that this extraordinary scene suggests a story or some kind of myth,” said Brumm.
The 4.5-metre-wide panel shows six fleeing mammals – two Sulawesi warty pigs and four dwarf buffaloes, known as anoas, small but fierce animals that still inhabit the island’s dwindling forests. The animals are being pursued by human-like figures with some animal features (academics call these therianthropes), who seem to be wielding long swords or ropes. Their bodies are human-shaped but one appears to have the head of a bird and another has a tail.
The art was found after an expedition member noticed what appeared to be an entrance to a high-level chamber above. Photograph: Ratno Sardi/Griffith University
Human-animal hybrids occur in the folklore of almost every modern society and are frequently cast as gods, spirits or ancestral beings in religions across the world.
“The most fascinating aspect is it has all the key elements of modern human cognition,” said Prof Maxime Aubert, an archaeologist at Australia’s Griffith University. “Hand stencils, a narrative scene, human-like figures that were conceived of something that doesn’t really exist in the real world. Everything is there by 44,000 years ago.”
The cave is in a well-explored system, which researchers had visited frequently over the past decade. The discovery was made after an expedition member noticed what appeared to be an entrance to a high level chamber above and climbed up a fig tree to investigate. “And then, bang, there’s this incredible new rock art site in there that’s essentially like nothing we’ve ever seen before in this entire region,” said Brumm.
The dwarf buffalo species pictured still inhabits forests on the island. Photograph: Maxime Aubert/PA
Rock art is difficult to date, and the scientists relied on analysing mineral growths known as cave popcorn, that had formed over the painting. Measuring the radioactive decay of uranium and other elements in the deposits gave dates ranging from 35,100 to 43,900 years as a minimum age for the Sulawesi discovery. The findings are described in the journal Nature.
“It’s just amazing and to me it just shows how much more rock art that is out there waiting to be discovered that completely changes our understanding of the human story,” said Brumm.
Before this latest discovery, the oldest undisputed examples of figurative cave art date to about 35,000 years old. The oldest cave art on record is abstract forms attributed to Neanderthals, which have been dated to 64,000 years old. The art features lines, dots and animal-like shapes.