Indonesian cave paintings - Rewriting art history
Prehistoric cave paintings in Indonesia are as old as ancient art in Europe, a new study found. The images found in caves on Sulawesi Island show humans were drawing in different parts of the world some 40,000 years ago.
The ancient paintings were found in seven caves on the central Indonesian island of Sulawesi. This photograph was taken from the entrance of a cave in the vicinity of the sites where rock art was found and dated.
The prehistoric images, at least 40,000 years old, depict animals and the outline of human hands. This picture shows hand stencils and images of two babi rusas or pig-deer - pig-like animals native to Sulawesi and the surrounding islands of Indonesia - at a Leang Pettakere cave. Red ochres were used to produce the red and mulberry-colored paintings.
Also at Leang Pettakere, one can see different generations of paintings: the hand stencil on the back on the 'pig-deer' was most likely produced before the babi rusa painting that overlies it. Sulawesi's rock art was first reported by Dutch archeologist Heeren-Palm in the 1950s, but no one had tried to date the cave art since then.
Researchers found the Indonesian paintings were comparable in age to the oldest-known rock art from Europe, long thought to be the birthplace of art. There are also other similarities as seen in these hand stencils and red disks drawn in the El Castillo cave in Spain between 37,000 and 40,000 years ago. These are some of the oldest cave paintings in Europe.
Sulawesi's rock art was first reported by Dutch archeologist Heeren-Palm in the 1950s. For many years, archeologists thought that it was part of the pre-Neolithic (Mesolithic) period some 10,000 years ago. The latest phase of research began in 2011 when Indonesian and Australian archeologists started excavations at Leang Burung 2 in the Maros region and ultimately succeeded in dating the caves.
The landscape of the Maros region where the paintings are found: rivers have carved through the limestone, and a flourishing agriculture takes place in the valleys. In the remnant limestone towers and plateau, countless caves can be found and in many, rock art is displayed.
While many sites still preserve beautiful examples of rock art in this region, many others may have been destroyed by erosion. An additional threat may come from the growing interest people will have in the region. Indonesian authorities said they plan to place the cave paintings on a list of the nation's official "cultural heritage" and apply to have them included in UNESCO's World Heritage List.
In 2017, scientists found what is now considered Indonesia - and the world's - oldest artwork. Believed to be about 44,000 years old, this Sulawesi painting is also thought to be the world's first pictorial narrative, showing a seen of human-like figures hunting boar.