World's oldest cave painting discovered in Indonesia

Discovered by a team of researchers in Indonesia, the oldest cave painting is now dated to more than 51,000 years old. The previous record was held by a 44,000-year-old cave painting identified in 2019 by the same team of researchers in a nearby cave.

Located in the Leang Karampuang cave (on the island of Sulaweisi) in a remote valley surrounded by limestone cliffs, the drawing depicts a scene with several figures. The drawing is modest, yet the pig and the three humanoid figures drawn in clay represent a considerable advance in the history of cave art. The painting shows an elaborate narrative with several figures, contradicting the academic thesis that cave art is not capable of depicting a narrative with several figures. Despite the poor condition of the painting, there is also an anthropomorphic figure with the head of a bird, which also illustrates the ability of men of the time to depict symbolic and abstract figures.

To date their new discovery, the researchers developed a new dating method. This allows the painting to be dated from the layers of limestone that covered it. Coupled with laser technology to remove the limestone from the drawing, the technique allowed the researchers to access the layer closest to the painting and thus determine its age more precisely. The team of researchers first tested this method on the old painting – ” the oldest “ – from the nearby cave: the hunting scene in question, estimated at 45,000 years old, was re-evaluated at 48,000 years old thanks to this new technique. The team consisted of researchers from Griffith University, Southern Cross University and the Indonesian National Agency for Research and Innovation in the journal Nature.

These discoveries call into question the various hypotheses of the beginnings of parietal art according to which the oldest figurative paintings were made by men from Western Europe 40,000 years ago (with an ivory sculpture of a man with a lion’s head in Germany). They support the hypothesis according to which figurative art came from Africa and was then exported with the movements of populations on other continents including Indonesia.

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