Schildering van een varken in de Leang Tedongnge grot in Sulawesi, Indonesië. © Maxime Aubert

Archaeologists investigating caves on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia have discovered the world’s oldest known figurative art – a life-size painting of an animal called a warty pig created about 45,500 years ago.

The picture was found in the Leang Tedongnge limestone cave in a remote valley enclosed by sheer limestone cliffs. The life-sized painting measures 136cm by 54cm (53in by 21in) and was painted using dark red ochre pigment. It depicts a pig with horn-like facial warts characteristic of adult males of the species found in this area. Two hand prints can be seen above the back of the pig and there appear to be at least two or three other pig figures on the same panel which are only partially preserved.

High contrast images: The two other pigs in the scene are only partially preserved © A.A. Oktaviana

Similar paintings of pigs have previously been found in other caves in the area. One of these has been dated to around 43,900 years ago, using a technique known as uranium-series analysis of calcium carbonate deposits. The latest find pushes that date back by almost 2,000 years and provides the earliest evidence of human settlement in the region.

According to co-author of the report Maxime Aubert of Australia’s Griffith University, the painting was found in 2017 by doctoral student Basran Burhan, as a part of surveys which the team was carrying out in co-operation with the Indonesian authorities. Aubert, a specialist in scientific dating techniques, analysed a calcite deposit which had formed on top of the painting, from which she was able to confirm that the deposit was at least 45,500 years old. The painting itself could in fact be even older.

The findings were described in the journal Science Advances. See the whole report at: https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/7/3/eabd4648

Text                 Alun Harvey

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