Updated January 19, 2021 at 12:23 PM CT

45,500-year-old animal paintings found in Indonesian cave

      A painting of pigs discovered in a cave in Indonesia has set a record for the earliest figurative art. It's at least 45,500 years old, according to research recently published in Science Advances.

It’s a series of three to four Sulawesi warty pigs and an outline of human hands.

The discovery was made by Basran Burhan, a doctoral student and co-author of the study, in an isolated valley reachable only by foot. After taking precautions to ensure the collected samples were untouched, the authors calculated that the images must have been made at least 45,500 years ago.

Sulawesi, an Indonesian island east of Borneo where the latest painting was found, is a treasure trove for rock art. Since researchers began working there 70 years ago, they have confirmed around 300 caves containing imagery. In 2019, another cave painting depicting a hunting scene was dated to at least 43,900 years ago - the oldest known painting in the region at the time.

“We stress that this is only a minimum age,” says co-author Maxime Aubert, a professor of archeological science at Griffith University in Australia. “The rock art in this region could very well be 60,000 to 65,000 years old. We just need more samples.”

“It is usually challenging to determine when ancient art was made,” said Rachel Nuwer of Scientific American. “The limestone composition of Sulawesi’s caves makes it easier to date paintings that occur there. Porous limestone promotes the formation of speleothems, or mineral deposits formed by water precipitating through rock. Stalactites and stalagmites are examples of speleothems, but microscale deposits can also build up on cave walls, including sections that contain artwork. Dating technology for Pleistocene paintings works by measuring the ratio of uranium and thorium (which forms as uranium decays) in mineral deposits collected atop ancient art. Scientists use known radioactive decay rates of the two elements to calculate the minimum amount of time that has passed since they were deposited,” she said.

A cave complex in southwestern France named Lascaux is famous for its exceptionally detailed depictions of humans and animals. The Lascaux paintings are around 17,000 years old, making this new discovery truly remarkable.



Ran DeBord - All Access Sporting News

 Follow @AASNSports on Twitter, or me, @RanDeBord

Attributes: AASNSports; Science Advances; Scientific American


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