An 44,000-year-old rock painting found in Indonesia is considered the oldest known up to date.
The red image, covering a board about five meters wide, appears to depict an animal resembling a buffalo called an anoa and wild pigs hunted by humans with ropes and spears.
the human figures have snouts and tails, an intriguing twist that makes researchers scratch their heads.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Adam Brumm, an archaeologist at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, who reported the discovery to the magazine Nature.
“I mean, we’ve seen hundreds of rock art sites in this region – but we’ve never seen anything that looks like a hunting scene,” he added.
The art was found in a cave called Leang Bulu’Sipong 4, south of Sulawesi, an Indonesian island east of Borneo. At least 242 caves or shelters in Sulawesi contain original images, and new sites are discovered every year.
As Brumm recounts when he first saw pictures of the image after a colleague climbed a fig tree to get to the cave: “These images appeared on my iPhone.”
The Griffith University team was able to determine the date of the drawing by analyzing the calcite “popcorn” that was used on the painting.
The radioactive uranium in the mineral breaks down over time into thorium at a well-known rate. Measuring the quantities of each isotope present within the samples allowed the experts to estimate the age of the painting.
For example, Calcite on a pig began to form at least 43,900 years ago, they discovered, while on two buffaloes formed for the first time 40,900 years ago, making the picture by far the oldest narrative art still discovered.
“Previously, rock art discovered at European sites dating from 14,000 to 21,000 years ago was considered to be the oldest distinctly narrative artwork in the world,” report researchers to Nature.
It may also be the oldest known representation of an animal, close to a 40,000-year-old rock painting in Borneo.
However, it is not the oldest known work of art. It belongs to a small fragment of rock found in South Africa, which has hatched lines engraved on the rock surface with a red ochre “pencil”.