The world’s oldest figurative artwork, dating back some 44,000 years and depicting a prehistoric hunting scene, was discovered in an Indonesian cave.
The 4.5-meter-wide composition depicts a scene with eight human figures armed with lances and ropes, hunting six mammals, including wild boars and dwarf bovids, according to a study published Wednesday in Nature magazine.
The hunters are drawn with human bodies but the heads of animals, birds or reptiles, figures called therianthropes in mythology.
This monochrome painting was found at the end of 2017, quite damaged, on the walls of a cave in Leang Bulu Sipong, on the Indonesian island of Celebes.
To date the work, a team from the Australian University of Griffith used a very precise technology that allows it to be placed in the period of the Upper Palaeolithic, with an age of “at least 43,900 years”.
“This hunting scene is, to our knowledge, the oldest representation of figurative art and narrative work in the world,” said the researchers.
“I have never seen anything like this before,” Griffith University archaeologist Adam Brumm told Nature.
The representation of figures, partly human and partly animal, suggests that humans at that time were able to imagine things that did not exist in the real world, according to researchers.
“We don’t know what it means, we know it’s a hunt, which may have mythological or supernatural connotations,” Brumm suggests.
These concepts can “serve as a basis for modern religions,” the researcher adds.
Man with lion’s head
This work predates the ivory sculpture of a lion-headed man found in Germany, hitherto considered the oldest representation of a therianthropic creature (40,000 years old), according to the study.
Comparatively, the cave paintings in Chauvet cave in France date back some 35,000 years, and those in Lascaux, also in France, some 20,000.
In both cases in France, “these are maximum ages, since the dates come from the pigment of wood charcoal, and they tell us the date when the tree died, not the date when the charcoal was used to paint,” archaeologist Maxime Aubert told AFP.
On the contrary, in Indonesia, the method used made it possible to determine a minimum age since dating occurs on “mineral deposits accumulated the figures,” explains the researcher.
“The main components of a highly developed artistic culture, which includes figurative art, narrative scenes, and therianthropes, were present 44,000 years ago” in this region of Asia, stresses Maxime Aubert.
The discovery could put an end to the deep-rooted idea that “rock art appeared in Europe and consisted of abstract symbolic representations.
This discovery, in addition to a 40,000-year-old figurative painting of a wild ox found on the island of Borneo in 2018, makes Indonesia “one of the most important regions in the world for understanding the beginnings of parietal art and the evolution of modern human thought,” according to researchers.
This art could express “a spirituality founded on a special bond between humans and animals,” long before it occurred in Europe, they add.
Researchers also warn of the poor state of the cave’s walls, which are deteriorating at great speed, threatening to erase the work.
“It would be tragic if this ancestral art disappeared from our lives, but that is what is happening. It is urgent to understand why,” they conclude.
(Taken from Granma in Spanish)