Arts & Entertainment

World’s oldest figurative cave painting discovered in Indonesia

Sydney, Australia, Jan 14 (efe-epa).- The oldest figurative cave painting in the world is the image of a pig painted 45,500 years ago in a cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi discovered by a group of Australian and Indonesian archaeologists, as reported Thursday by scientific sources.

“As far as we know, the painting of the Sulawesi pig that we found in the limestone cave of Leang Tedongnge is currently the oldest figurative art work in the world,” said Adam Brumm, one of the leaders of the scientific team of Griffith University and Indonesia’s archaeological research center.

The image replaces the previous oldest image, another painting discovered in 2020 on the same island by Brumm’s team that depicted an abstract hunting scene from 43,900 years ago.

The new find was hidden within one of the internal walls of the Leang Tedongnge cave, located in a valley surrounded by steep limestone cliffs in the south of the island of Sulawesi and can only be accessed during the dry season for a small passage that remains flooded during the rainy season.

Residents, from the Bugis ethnic group, assured that, except for them, no one else had entered the cave until this team of archaeologists arrived in 2017.

This endemic pig from the Indonesian island appears in the representation with a red crest of erected hairs and a pair of facial warts in front of the eyes, a characteristic feature of adult specimens.

“Painted with ocher red pigment, the pig appears to be observing a fight or social interaction between two other warty pigs,” said Brumm, an archaeologist at the Australian University of Griffith, referring to the study published in the scientific journal Science Advances.

These warty pigs have been represented for thousands of years by ancient humans in the area, especially during the ice age, which, according to the archaeologist, suggests they were not only a source of food but also of artistic expression.

To determine the age of the Leang Tedongnge rock painting, scientists relied on measuring the radioactive degradation of uranium from carbonated calcium deposits that formed on the surface of the rock “canvas” used to render this pig.

“At Leag Tedongnge, a kind of rocky ‘popcorn’ formed behind one of the legs of the pig image after it was painted, which allowed us to determine the minimum age of the painting,” explained another de the team leaders, Maxime Aubert, of Griffith University.

In addition to the image of this 45,500-year-old pig, scientists discovered in a nearby cave another similar painting dating back 32,000 years, adding to the 43,900-year-old one, until now considered the oldest.

This latest painting discovered in 2020 has the peculiarity of representing abstract beings that combine human and animal characteristics, known as “therianthropes,” which hunt large mammals with spears and ropes. They may be, according to the expert, the oldest proof of the human ability to imagine “the existence of supernatural beings, the cornerstone of religious experience.”

The Sulawesi cave paintings are among the oldest evidence of the presence of modern humans on the oceanic islands between Asia and Australia-New Guinea, an area known as “Wallacea.”

“Our species must have crossed Wallacea in boats to reach Australia about 65,000 years ago,” said Aubert, adding that future work may show archaeological evidence from that time or even before it. EFE-EPA


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