World's Oldest Cave Painting Discovered

Picture of wild pig made at least 45,500 years ago discovered in the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Archaeologists have discovered the world’s oldest known cave painting: a life-sized picture of a wild pig that was made at least 45,500 years ago in the Leang Tedongnge cave in Indonesia. The finding described in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday provides the earliest evidence of human settlement of the region.


The cave is set in a remote valley enclosed by sheer limestone cliffs, about an hour’s walk from the nearest road. It's only accessible during the dry season and members of the local, isolated Bugis community told the team it had never before been seen by westerners, reports The Guardian.


Measuring 136cm by 54cm (53in by 21in) 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.


“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.


Maxime Aubert, of Australia’s Griffith University is 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, and that they would probably have had to cross the islands of Indonesia, known as “Wallacea”. It 's hoped further research will demonstrate that people were in the region much earlier, helping to resolve the Australia settlement puzzle.


The team believes the artwork was made by Homo sapiens, as opposed to another now extinct human species, but cannot say this for certain.

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