The first people reached the islands of Southeast Asia and Australia almost 50 thousand years ago. Griffiths University archaeologist Adam Brumm and his colleagues are examining the traces of those migrations scattered in the caves of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. They found hundreds of "pencils" of red pigments, scrapers, chiseled figurines and, of course, rock paintings. In an article published in the journal Nature, scientists report on their new unique find - a mystical depiction of a hunting scene. Dated to the age of at least 44 thousand years, it is the oldest genre painting written by man.
Back in 2017, Indonesian archaeologist and speleologist Pak Hamrullah noticed a time-hidden hole in the limestone wall of one of dozens of caves explored on the island of Sulawesi. A short passage ended with a small grotto, on the wall of which there was an unusual pattern made with red ocher in a space about 4.5 meters wide. Unlike most of the rock paintings discovered by scientists before, it depicts an entire genre scene.
According to scientists, a couple of local Javanese pigs and eight dwarf anoa buffaloes act as game in the hunt in the picture: both of them still live in Sulawesi. They are pursued by eight small, spear-armed, half-human, half-animal figures. Some stand out with a long, elongated muzzle, one has something like a beak drawn, another has a tail.
Such figures may reflect the camouflage elements used by primitive hunters. However, scientists associate their appearance with mystical practices: such "half-people" are already known from some other samples of rock art, including the famous bone "lion-man" found in the Alps and dated to 35 thousand years old.
The hunting scene includes several animals and several demi-humans / © Maxime Aubert et al., 2019
Taking samples of limestone from the walls of the cave, the scientists examined them in the laboratory. For years, water penetrating into its micropores left sediment, including trace amounts of radioactive uranium. Over time, it disintegrated, turning into thorium. The ratio of these nuclei in the layer that accumulated right on top of the figure indicated its minimum age - 43, 9 thousand years. If this assessment is correct, then the drawing is several thousand years older than the oldest known examples of figurative painting from Europe and 20 thousand years older than the oldest European depiction of hunting.
The simplest images in the form of dots, zigzags and lines have appeared before: in a Spanish cave, they are dated as old as 65 thousand years and, possibly, were left by the Neanderthals. However, figurative painting, such as images of birds, requires much more skill and developed thinking. Moreover - the image of "demihumans", which, apparently, is woven into a complex mythological picture of the world.