Oldest cave painting in world suggests religion began in Indonesia not Europe

James Marshall
December 12, 2019

"This was just mind-boggling because this showed us that this was possibly the oldest rock art anywhere on the face of this planet".

The ancient painting was discovered in the limestone cave of Leang Bulu' Sipong 4 in the Indonesian island of Sulawesi in 2017.

The team of archaeologists, led by Griffith University in Australia, who made the find say it sheds new light on the origin of modern human cognition. The latter are small but fierce bovids that still inhabit the island's dwindling forests. "Indeed, the reputation of anoas is such that the Indonesian army even named their armored personnel carrier, the Anoa, after these creatures".

Archaeologists have discovered what they believe to be the world's oldest cave art on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

The simplified, highly stylized pictures of the hunters portrayed them with the muzzles, beaks and snouts of birds, reptiles and other animals native to Sulawesi, as well as tails and other bestial traits.

It reveals a team of fragment-human, fragment-animal figures, identified as therianthropes, making an try trim mammals with what's believed to be either spears or ropes.

The panel is nearly five metres wide and appears to show a type of buffalo called an anoa, plus wild pigs found on Sulawesi.

Previous examples of human and animal interactions dated only as far back as 21,000 years, with the famed Upper Palaeolithic cave art of Europe. More likely, the figures represent mythical animal-human hybrids, Aubert says.

"In Europe, scholars have always been interested in the oldest known images of therianthropes in prehistoric art, because they are generally accepted to represent the earliest evidence for our ability to conceive of abstract entities that do not exist in the natural world", Brumm said.

This could hint at early spirituality or shamanic beliefs.

These images of therianthropes may be "the oldest evidence for our ability to imagine the existence of supernatural beings, a cornerstone of religious experience". Until now, the oldest known depiction of a therianthrope was a carved figurine of a human with a feline head, from Germany, that dated back about 40,000 years.

All in all, the newfound cave painting depicts a hunting scene.

The prehistoric hunting scene shows possible therianthropes hunting wild pigs and dwarf buffaloes in Indonesia. In 2018, scientists dated some examples of disks and abstract designs from caves in Spain to 65,000 years ago, but these were attributed to Neanderthals, and some scientists have challenged the dating. It was also thought that innovative concepts of artistic representation such as compositions with multiple interacting subjects (scenes), and the depiction of imaginary entities like therianthropes, were very uncommon until about 20,000 years ago.

Professor Aubert acknowledged: "The cave characterize from Leang Bulu" Sipong 4 suggests that there became once no slack evolution of Palaeolithic art work from easy to advanced around 35,000 years within the past - as a minimal no longer in Southeast Asia.

A scene of what appears to be boars, wild cattle and humanlike figures is the oldest lifelike figure cave art we have found yet.

They found the calcite on a pig began forming at least 43,900 years ago, and the deposits on two buffalo were at least 40,900 years old.

Aubert's team claims that the figures might be the oldest human-animal hybrids ever found in a work of art. And, say the researchers who found them, the illustrations might also represent the oldest evidence we have of our ancestors telling stories through drawings. That includes the site in the new study.

"And then, bang, there's this incredible new rock art site in there that's essentially like nothing we've ever seen before in this entire region", said Brumm.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

Discuss This Article