A cave painting, revealed in 2017 on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, has proved to be the oldest in human history to date, according to the scientific journal Science Advances.
The image of a wild pig was discovered by doctoral student Basran Burhan, a member of an archeological group that had been exploring ancient cites. The picture found in the Leang Tedongnge cave, an hour's walk from the nearest road in a remote valley surrounded by sheer limestone cliffs. The place is accessible only during the dry season as, during the rest of the year, the rains fill the caves with water.
The discovery, some 136cm by 54cm (53in by 21in) is painted with dark red ochre pigment and includes a short crest of upright hair along with a pair of horn-like facial warts, a distinctive feature of adult males of the Sulawesi warty pig. Archeologists suggest that the pig is observing other pigs whose paintings were not so well preserved.
“The pig appears to be observing a fight or social interaction between two other warty pigs,” said co-author Adam Brumm.
Humans have hunted this type of pig for tens of thousands of years and these animals are a key feature of the region's prehistoric art, especially during the Ice Age.
Two hand prints are located in the upper part of the painting and scientists are hoping to find DNA samples, as ancient people would put their palms on a surface and then spit pigment over it. At the moment, scientists assume that the “artist” was a member of Homo sapiens, but it could be another extinct human species, like a Denisovan.
“The people who made it were fully modern, they were just like us, they had all of the capacity and the tools to do any painting that they liked,” explained Maxime Aubert, an archaeological dating specialist.
According to Aubert, laboratory analysis shows that the picture is at least 45,500 years old, “but it could be much older because the dating that we’re using only dates the calcite on top of it”.
The oldest dated cave painting was found by the same archaeological team in Sulawesi.