The World’s Oldest Cave Art Discovered in Indonesia, 51,200 Years Old!

The World's Oldest Cave Art
The World's Oldest Cave Art )photo: BBC)

The island of Sulawesi in Indonesia has become the focal point of global archaeological interest with the discovery of the world’s oldest cave art, estimated to be at least 51,200 years old. This ancient painting, found by a team of Australian and Indonesian scientists, depicts a unique relationship between humans and pigs, shedding new light on early human creativity.

Reported by BBC on Thursday (4/7/2024), this groundbreaking find in Sulawesi reveals the earliest known piece of figurative cave art. The artwork, featuring a wild pig and three human-like figures, predates previous cave art discoveries by over 5,000 years.

Professor Maxime Aubert from Griffith University in Australia emphasized the significance of this discovery in understanding human evolution.

“This painting tells a complex story. It is the oldest evidence we have of storytelling. It shows that humans at that time had the capacity for abstract thinking,” he explained.

The ancient painting portrays a stationary pig with its mouth slightly open and three human-like figures. The largest figure appears with outstretched arms, seemingly holding a stick.

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Another figure stands in front of the pig, its head positioned beside the pig’s snout, also holding a stick that appears to touch the pig’s throat. The third figure is depicted upside down, with its legs extended upwards and one hand reaching towards the pig’s head.

Leading the team of scientists, Adhi Agus Oktaviana, a rock art expert from Indonesia’s National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), highlighted the importance of storytelling in early human culture in Indonesia.

“Humans may have been telling stories for over 51,200 years, but because words don’t fossilize, we can only use indirect proxies like scene depictions in art, and Sulawesi art is the oldest evidence known to archaeology so far,” he noted.

The previous record for the oldest known artwork was held by geometric patterns found on rocks in Blombos Cave in southern Africa, dating back between 75,000 and 100,000 years. However, these were simple geometric designs, unlike the complex figurative art found in Sulawesi.

Until a decade ago, ancient cave art was primarily discovered in regions such as Spain and southern France. This led to the belief that the creative explosion resulting in the art and science known today began in Europe. However, the discovery of painted human handprints in South Sulawesi in 2014 challenged this perspective.

Further reinforcing Indonesia’s role in early human art, scientists found the oldest known representational art in Lubang Jeriji Saléh cave on Borneo Island in November 2018. This artwork, depicting an unidentified animal, was estimated to be over 40,000 years old.

Professor Adam Brumm from Griffith University commented on the recent Sulawesi discovery, highlighting its impact on understanding the importance of storytelling in the history of art. This world’s oldest cave art in Indonesia not only enriches the narrative of human creativity but also underscores the global nature of early human innovation.