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A cave painting found on an Indonesian island appears to be the earliest known record of storytelling through pictures.
A team of Indonesian and Australian researchers say the work dates back nearly 44,000 years. That is several thousand years older than European examples of cave art that appear to tell a story.
The painting was found in a limestone cave on the island of Sulawesi in 2017. It shows eight human-like beings hunting six animals. Among the animals are native speciessuch as buffaloes and warty pigs.
The researchers say the painting suggests a “game drive, a communal hunt.”
The human-like creatures appear to be carrying ropes and spears. This, the researchers say, shows that the Sulawesi hunters at that time may have attempted to capture live adult pigs and buffaloes.
The Indonesian cave painting also provides some of the earliest evidence of human spirituality, said Adam Brumm. He is an archaeologist at Australia’s Griffith University, which carried out the research. Brumm was a co-writer of a report on the study.
The report said the eight creatures seen carrying out the hunt have some human-like qualities and some qualities of animals. Researchers call these creatures “therianthropes.”
Brumm said that therianthropes appear in stories and myths across cultures. They are seen as “gods, spirits, or ancestral beings in many religions worldwide,” he added.
The Griffith researchers said cave art on Sulawesi was first discovered in the 1950s. At least 242 caves and shelters containing such imagery have been found in the years since. The island was once known as Celebes.
Some of the caves have seen damaged. This could threaten the art, said Adhi Agus Oktaviana, an Indonesian expert on rock art. He is a Griffith University doctoral student who was involved in the research. He pointed to threats from salt, dust, smoke and microorganisms.
Oktaviana added that, “It would be a tragedy if these exceptional old artworks should disappear in our own lifetime, but it is happening.”
A paper on the research appeared this month in the scientific publication Nature.