The oldest figurative cave painting in the world is the image of a warty pig painted 45,500 years ago. It was discovered in a cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi by a group of Australian and Indonesian archaeologists
“As far as we know, the painting of the Sulawesi pig that we found in the limestone cave of Leang Tedongnge it is currently the oldest figurative artistic work in the world, “Adam Brumm, one of the leaders of the scientific team at Griffith University and the Indonesian archaeological research center ARKENAS, explained in a statement.
Until now, the figurative cave painting considered the oldest in the world was one discovered in 2020 on the same island that represents an abstract hunting scene from 43,900 years ago. It had also been found by Brumm’s team and has the peculiarity of representing abstract beings that combine human and animal characteristics, known as “therianthropes”, which hunt large mammals with spears and ropes. According to the expert, that could be the oldest proof of the human ability to imagine “the existence of supernatural beings, the cornerstone of religious experience.”
The discovered painting is now hidden in one of the internal walls of the cave Leang Tedongnge, located in a valley surrounded by steep limestone cliffs in the south of the island of Sulawesi. It is a place to which can only be accessed during the dry season through a small passage that remains flooded during the rainy season.
The locals, from the Bugis ethnic group, assured that except for them, no one else had entered the cave until this team of archaeologists arrived in 2017.
The warty pig, inspiration in the Ice Age
It is pig endemic to indonesian island It appears in the representation with a red crest of upright hairs and a pair of facial warts in front of the eyes, a characteristic feature of adult specimens.
Brumm, an archaeologist at the Australian University of Griffith, pointed out that “painted with ocher red pigment, the pig appears to be observing a fight or social interaction between two other warty pigs. ”The study by the team of researchers he leads was published in the scientific journal Science Advances.
These Warty pigs have been represented for thousands of years by the ancient inhabitants of the area, especially during the Ice Age. The archaeologist interpreted that to suggest that they were not only a source of food but also of artistic expression.
How the age of the painting was determined
To determine the age of the Leang Tedongnge rock painting, the scientists relied on the measurement of radioactive degradation of uranium from carbonated calcium deposits that were formed on the surface of the rocky “canvas” used to shape this pig.
“At Leag Tedongnge, a kind of rocky ‘popcorn’ formed behind one of the legs of the pig image after it was painted, which allowed us to determine the minimum age of the painting,” explained another de the team leaders, Maxime Aubert, from Griffith University.
Wallacea hides more secrets
In addition to the image of this 45,500-year-old pig, scientists discovered in a nearby cave another similar painting dating back 32,000 years, which is added to the 43,900-year-old one, until now considered the oldest.
The cave paintings of Sulawesi are among the oldest evidences of the presence of modern humans on the oceanic islands between Asia and Australia-New Guinea, an area known as “Wallacea”.
“Our species must have crossed Wallacea in boats to reach Australia around 65,000 years ago,” Aubert said, noting that future work may show archaeological evidence from that time or even before it.