Archaeologists have discovered the world’s oldest known animal cave painting in Indonesia with a panel showing wild pigs.
The drawings were made in a cave 45,5000 years ago and located in a remote valley on the island of Sulawesi which is only accessible during the dry season.
Previously, rock art found in European sites were considered to be the world’s oldest narrative artwork and a new documentary on BBC after BBC Indonesia has filmed inside the cave.
Indonesia harbors some of the oldest known surviving cave art. Previously, the earliest dated rock art from this region was a figurative painting of a Sulawesi warty pig believed to have been created about 43,900 years ago (43.9 ka) based on Uranium-series dating.
The life-size painting of the pigs are now believed to have a minimum date of 2,000 years before that and was found in a cave in a valley called Leang Tedongnge. The findings were published in Science Advance
Co-author Maxime Aubert of Australia’s Griffith University told AFP it was found on the island of Sulawesi in 2017 by doctoral student Basran Burhan, as part of surveys the team was carrying out with Indonesian authorities.
The Leang Tedongnge cave is located in a remote valley enclosed by sheer limestone cliffs, about an hour’s walk from the nearest road.
It is only accessible during the dry season because of flooding during the wet season—and members of the isolated Bugis community told the team it had never before been seen by Westerners.
Measuring 136 by 54 centimeters (53 by 21 inches) the Sulawesi warty pig was painted using dark red ochre pigment and has a short crest of upright hair, as well as a pair of horn-like facial warts characteristic of adult males of the species.
There are two hand prints 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.Play00:0000:11MuteSettingsPIPEnter fullscreen
“The pig appears to be observing a fight or social interaction between two other warty pigs,” said co-author Adam Brumm.
Humans have hunted Sulawesi warty pigs for tens of thousands of years, and they are a key feature of the region’s prehistoric artwork, particularly during the Ice Age.
Early human migration
Aubert, a dating specialist, identified a calcite deposit that had formed on top of the painting, then used Uranium-series isotope dating to confidently say the deposit was 45,500 years old.
This makes the painting at least that age, “but it could be much older because the dating that we’re using only dates the calcite on top of it,” he explained.
“The people who made it were fully modern, they were just like us, they had all of the capacity and the tools to do any painting that they liked,” he added.
The previously oldest dated rock art painting was found by the same team in Sulawesi. It depicted a group of part-human, part-animal figures hunting mammals, and was found to be at least 43,900 years old.
Cave paintings such as these also help fill in gaps about our understanding of early human migrations.
It’s known that people reached Australia 65,000 years ago, but they would probably have had to cross the islands of Indonesia, known as “Wallacea.”
This site now represents the oldest evidence of humans in Wallacea, but it’s hoped further research will help show people were in the region much earlier, which would resolve the Australia settlement puzzle.