via Nature, 11 December 2019: Really exciting news out of Sulawesi, about really old rock art again. Leang Bulu’ Sipong 4, a cave in the Pangkep region is home to what is thought to be the oldest hunting scene in the world, and also the oldest depiction of therianthropes (half-animal, half humans). The paintings are dated to 44,000 years using uranium-series dating – comparable to other rock art sites in Sulawesi and Borneo – and make them the oldest such examples currently known in the world! Links to other news stories below as well as here. If you’re interested in more rock art, check out my dedicated page on the rock art of Southeast Asia.
Humans seem to have an adaptive predisposition for inventing, telling and consuming stories. Prehistoric cave art provides the most direct insight that we have into the earliest storytelling, in the form of narrative compositions or ‘scenes’ that feature clear figurative depictions of sets of figures in spatial proximity to each other, and from which one can infer actions taking place among the figures5. The Upper Palaeolithic cave art of Europe hosts the oldest previously known images of humans and animals interacting in recognizable scenes, and of therianthropes—abstract beings that combine qualities of both people and animals, and which arguably communicated narrative fiction of some kind (folklore, religious myths, spiritual beliefs and so on). In this record of creative expression (spanning from about 40 thousand years ago (ka) until the beginning of the Holocene epoch at around 10 ka), scenes in cave art are generally rare and chronologically late (dating to about 21–14 ka), and clear representations of therianthropes are uncommon—the oldest such image is a carved figurine from Germany of a human with a feline head (dated to about 40–39 ka). Here we describe an elaborate rock art panel from the limestone cave of Leang Bulu’ Sipong 4 (Sulawesi, Indonesia) that portrays several figures that appear to represent therianthropes hunting wild pigs and dwarf bovids; this painting has been dated to at least 43.9 ka on the basis of uranium-series analysis of overlying speleothems. This hunting scene is—to our knowledge—currently the oldest pictorial record of storytelling and the earliest figurative artwork in the world.
- Ancient cave art may depict the world’s oldest hunting scene | National Geographic, 11 Dec 2019
- Indonesian cave paintings show the dawn of imaginative art and human spiritual belief | The Conversation, 12 Dec 2019
- Mythical Beings May Be Earliest Imaginative Cave Art by Humans | New York Times, 11 Dec 2019
- Half-animal, half-human hybrids depicted on oldest discovered cave art | CNN, 11 Dec 2019
- Une scène de chasse vieille d’au moins 44 000 ans découverte en Indonésie | Le Monde, 11 Dec 2019
- Earliest known cave art by modern humans found in Indonesia | The Guardian, 11 Dec 2019