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Climate change destroying some of world’s oldest cave paintings: study

Sydney, Australia, May 19 (EFE).- Climate change is responsible for the “alarming rate” of destruction of some of the Sulawesi island cave paintings, which date back 44,000 years and are considered as representations of oldest hunting and mythical beings in the world.

The direct impact of industrial development, mining, and the alteration of climatic states due to global warming are the greatest threat to the conservation of ice age art in the tropics, according to a recent study published in the Scientific Reports journal.

“In my opinion, the degradation of this incredible rock art is going to get worse the more global temperatures rise,” said Jillian Huntley, from Griffith University, referring to the great challenge in the conservation of cave paintings in the south of the island of Sulawesi.

Huntley led a team of Australian and Indonesian researchers who analyzed the increasing loss of surfaces in the painted limestone caves in Sulawesi, which holds the oldest evidence of the presence of modern humans on the islands between Asia and Australia-New Guinea, an area known as “Wallacea.”

The representations of Sulawesi — unlike the cave paintings Lascaux in France from temperate climates — are in the tropics, where “global warming can be up to three times higher,” according to a Griffith University statement issued Friday.

Researchers said this climate creates the ideal conditions for the stone to decompose due to the combination of high temperatures and a large number of dry days with the retention of rainwater generated by monsoons in rice fields and aquaculture ponds.

In these caves in southern Sulawesi, the scientific team found evidence of salt crystallization (haloclasty) in the Pleistocene rock art panels at eleven sites in the Maros-Pangkep archaeological sites, which they said are caused by these climatic conditions.

“I was shocked by the prevalence of destructive salt crystals and their chemistry in rock art panels, some of which we know are over 40,000 years old,” Huntley said.

The researchers said haloclasty is not only chemically weakening cave surfaces, but that the growth of salt crystals behind the cave paintings causes them to detach from the walls.

Another archaeologist from the project in Maros-Pangkep, said that instead there has been “a rapid loss of scales the size of a hand in these ancient art panels in a single season (less than five months.)”

“In addition to studying how salts are being formed in the cave walls, it is important to take into account the analysis of the composition of the rock art pigments and the production techniques of the images, which could possibly provide information on why some individual motifs exfoliate more quickly than others,” Indonesian archaeologist Rustan Lebe said.

Maros-Pangkep, one of the most important Pleistocene archaeological sites in the world, houses more than 300 caves with rock art, although Australian and Indonesian scientists, such as those from the archaeological research center of the Asian country ARKENAS, continue to discover new places every year. EFE


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