Earliest hunting scene in prehistoric art
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Earliest hunting scene in prehistoric art

December 16, 2019


We’ve been exploring the cave art of
this part of Sulawesi with our scientific counterparts in Indonesia; the
National Research Centre for Archaeology in the local Cultural Heritage
Preservation Branch based in Makassar as well as our colleagues from various
other local counterpart organisations. It’s an amazingly rich rock art province
there in Sulawesi. This cave is in a really well explored area you know our
teams have been through there a million times, and then one day one of the guys
just looked up and noticed what seemed to be an entrance to a high-level cave
climbed up a fig tree root to investigate it 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. It’s this beautiful painting of
some sort of hunting scene involving what seemed to be these wild animals; a
type of wild pig as well as a type of miniature buffalo known as an anoa
only found on this island, very small but dangerous animals. Amongst
this group of animals running across the cave wall essentially you can see a
whole group of these tiny little hunters, which at first we thought wow these look
like little people hunting these animals, but when you look closely at them you
can see that the the figures themselves have been portrayed as part human part
animal creatures they’re what we call therianthropes. Like for example one of
them seems to have the head of a bird and another one seems to have a tail.
They’re armed with what seemed to be spears or ropes that they’re using to
hunt these these wild animals. It suggested to us this extraordinary scene
shows some sort of story or myth. From what we know here it’s complex it’s
fully complex and it could be linked to to like spirituality. Exactly. We had never seen anything like that
at all anywhere in Sulawesi so we were stunned by the implications of this image. Rock art is exceptionally difficult to date in
the best of circumstances. We find the rock out in these limestone caves where
naturally over time these mineral growths develop all over the cave wall
and in some cases when we’re very lucky these mineral growths develop over the
ancient rock art. And they’re like a calcium carbonate coating and we can date them with the uranium series dating. So essentially we can date when those cave
popcorn formed on top of the painting so it provides us with a minimum range so
that’s why we can say that this panel here is at least forty three point
nine thousand years old… so it could be much older than that. This was just mind boggling because
this showed us that this was possibly the oldest rock art
anywhere on the face of the planet. It’s also the earliest what we call
figurative art and an image of something that formally resembles what its
intended to represent. To me this site is like the ultimate of rock art.
It’s everything there. There’s like a few hand stencils animal
paintings, there is humans, there’s a narrative scene there’s human with animal features… like it’s all there and it’s not just all there later it’s
all there from the beginning. It’s just amazing and to me it just
shows how much more rock artists out there waiting to be discovered that
completely changes our understanding of the human story. Absolutely.

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