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12 December 2019
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Griffith Magazine

Indonesian cave art could be world’s oldest

Cover Story

Fourth Edition December 2019

A team of archaeologists led by Griffith University has discovered a cave painting in Indonesia that is at least 44 thousand years old - It's our species oldest known rock art according to Nature

The cave art in Sulawesi portrays a group of part-human, part-animal figures – ‘therianthropes’ – hunting large mammals with spears or ropes, casting new light on the origin of modern cognition.

The figurative depiction of hunters as therianthropes may also be the oldest evidence of our ability to imagine the existence of supernatural beings, a cornerstone of religious experience.

The Australian team was led by griffith archaeologists Professor Maxime Aubert from the griffith Centre for Social and Cultural research (GCSCR) and Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution (ARCHE) and Professor Adam Brumm from ARCHE as well as PhD students Adhi Agus and Basran Buhran.

Discovered in 2017, the new rock art site named Leang Bulu’ Sipong 4 is one of hundreds in the Maros-Panmgrek limestone karst region of South Sulawesi.

“Early Indonesians were creating art that may have expressed spiritual thinking about the special bond between humans and animals long before the first art was made in Europe where it had been assumed the roots of modern religious culture can be traced,” Professor Aubert said.

The Indonesian island of Sulawesi showing the location of the Late Pleistocene cave art site. Leang Bulu' Sipong 4 is north of Makassar
Professors Maxime Aubert and Adam Brumm inspect the cave art site in Leang Blu' Sipong 4