[PHOTOS] World’s oldest cave art found showing humans, pig

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The oldest known example of figurative cave art has been discovered on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi by Australian and Indonesian scientists.

This painting, depicting a wild pig and three human-like figures, is at least 51,200 years old, making it more than 5,000 years older than the previous record holder for the oldest cave art.

This discovery pushes back the timeline for when modern humans first demonstrated the capacity for creative thought.

Prof. Maxime Aubert from Griffith University in Australia told BBC News that this finding would alter our understanding of human evolution.

“The painting tells a complex story. It is the oldest evidence we have for storytelling. It shows that humans at the time had the capacity to think in abstract terms,” he said.

BRINN Google Arts and Culture Karampuang Hill

The painting depicts a pig standing still with its mouth partly open and at least three human-like figures.

The largest human figure has both arms extended and appears to be holding a rod. The second figure is positioned directly in front of the pig, with its head near the pig’s snout, seemingly holding a stick, with one end possibly touching the pig’s throat. The third human-like figure appears to be upside-down, with its legs splayed outwards and one hand reaching towards and seemingly touching the pig’s head.

The team of scientists was led by Adhi Agus Oktaviana, an Indonesian rock art specialist from the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) in Jakarta. He asserts that narrative storytelling was a significant aspect of early human culture in Indonesia from a very early time.

“Humans have probably been telling stories for much longer than 51,200 years, but as words do not fossilise we can only go by indirect proxies like depictions of scenes in art – and the Sulawesi art is now the oldest such evidence by far that is known to archaeology,” he said.

JOHN READER/SPL Close-up of a collection of ochre (haematite, iron oxide) fragments found during excavations at the Blombos cave site in South Africa

The earliest evidence of drawing was found on rocks in the Blombos Caves in southern Africa, dating back between 75,000 to 100,000 years ago, consisting of geometric patterns.

The new painting, located in the limestone cave of Leang Karampuang in the Maros-Pangkep region of South Sulawesi, depicts representational art—an abstract representation of the world around the artist or artists.

This discovery signifies an evolution in the cognitive processes of our species, leading to the development of art and science.

Dr. Henry Gee, a senior editor at the journal *Nature*, where the details were published, poses the question of what triggered this awakening of the human mind.

“Something seems to have happened around 50,000 years ago, shortly after which all other species of human such as Neanderthals and the so-called Hobbit died out.

“It is very romantic to think that at some point in that time something happened in the human brain, but I think it is more likely that there are even earlier examples of representational art”.

Remi Masson/SPL Hand paintings in Sumpang Bita cave, Indonesia

Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London believes that there may be examples of ancient representational art in Africa, where modern humans first evolved, but we have not found any yet.

“This find reinforces the idea that representational art was first produced in Africa, before 50,000 years ago, and the concept spread as our species spread.

“If that is true, much new supporting evidence from other areas including Africa has yet to emerge. Obviously this oldest date is work on one panel at one site – hopefully more dating will be done at more sites to confirm this apparently crucial finding”.

The new dating was made possible using a new method which involves cutting tiny amounts of the art using a laser. This enables researchers to study different parts of the artwork in greater detail and come up with a more accurate dating.

As the new method becomes more widely used, several sites with cave art across the world may be re-dated, possibly pushing back further the emergence of representational art.

PHILIPPE PSAILA/SPL Lascaux cave paintings in south-western France

Until a decade ago, the only evidence of ancient cave art was found in regions like Spain and Southern France, leading some to believe that the creative explosion that paved the way for modern art and science began in Europe.

However, the discovery of colored outlines of human hands in South Sulawesi in 2014 challenged this perspective.

In November 2018, scientists found what was then the oldest known representational artwork—depicting an unknown animal—in the cave of Lubang Jeriji Saléh on the Indonesian island of Borneo, dating back over 40,000 years.

Prof. Adam Brumm from Griffith University stated that these recent Indonesian cave art discoveries shed new light on the significant role of storytelling in the history of art.

“It is noteworthy that the oldest cave art we have found in Sulawesi thus far consists of recognisable scenes: that is, paintings that depict humans and animals interacting in such a way that we can infer the artist intended to communicate a narrative of some kind – a story,” he said.

Source: BBC