A Newly Discovered Indonesian Cave Painting May Be the World’s Oldest Known Figurative Artwork

Science Advances—Scientists have uncovered a pig painting in an Indonesian cave that dates back more than 45,000 years, representing perhaps the world’s oldest surviving animal depiction and the most ancient known figurative artwork. The cave painting may also provide the earliest evidence for anatomically modern humans on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, supporting the view that the first populations to settle the Wallacea islands created artistic depictions of animals and narrative scenes as part of their culture. Indonesia has been known to harbor some of the world’s oldest surviving cave art, including previously discovered paintings on its largest island, Sulawesi. In 2017 and 2018, Adam Brumm and colleagues discovered two previously unknown depictions of the Sulawesi warty pig – characterized by its facial warts – painted in red or dark purplish mineral pigments in two Sulawesi limestone caves. A 136-by-54 centimeter pig painted in the Leang Tedongnge cave appeared to be part of a narrative scene with two less complete pigs that appeared to be confronting each other, while four hand stencils superimposed a 187-by-110 centimeter pig in the Leang Balangajia 1 cave, which was accompanied by several other poorly preserved animal paintings. Uranium-series isotope dating analyses conducted with small cave mineral deposits that overlie the images indicated that the Leang Tedongnge painting is at least 45,500 years old and the Leang Balangajia 1 painting is at least 32,000 years old. While Brumm et al. are unable to definitively determine that the pigs were painted by modern humans, they conclude that this is most likely the case, since other figurative depictions around the world have been exclusively attributed to modern humans.

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Leang Tedongnge cave mouth. AA Oktaviana

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Leang Tedongnge cave. AA Oktaviana

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Dated pig painting at Leang Tedongnge. AA Oktaviana

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Dated pig painting at Leang Tedongnge. Above, AA Oktaviana, below, Maxime Aubert

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Article Source: Science Advances news release. Science Advances is published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society.

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