The earliest ever cave painting depicting human hunting scenes has been discovered in Indonesia and is believed to date back almost 44,000 years ago.
The art is presumed to show a buffalo being hunted by part-human, part-animal figures, known as therianthropes, with what seems to be either spears or ropes.
According to Archaeologists at Griffin University in Brisbane, Australia, the painting reveals the early development of human spirituality.
Associate Professor Adam Brumm said:
“The images of therianthropes…may also represent the earliest evidence for our capacity to conceive of things that do not exist in the natural world.”
What do the drawings show?
The paintings were found in Leang Bulu’Sipong 4 cave in the south of Sulawesi, an Indonesian island east of Borneo. It appears to show a type of buffalo called an anoa, and wild pigs found on Sulawesi.
Alongside them are smaller figures that look like humans, but they seem to have animal features such as tails and snouts.
At least eight small human-like figures wielding weapons appear next to the animals.
It’s believed that the human-like figures and animals were painting at the same time using the same technique and dark red pigment.
Adhi Agus Oktaviana, of Griffin University, who worked on the project, explained:
“The hunters represented in the ancient rock art panel…are simple figures with human-like bodies.”
“But they have been depicted with heads or other body parts like those from birds, reptiles, and other faunal species endemic to Sulawesi.”
However, some researchers have questioned whether the drawing really represents one story, claiming it could be a series of images painted over a longer period.
Sue O’Connor, an archaeologist at Australian National University who was not involved in the study, suggests:
“This scene may not be a depiction of an actual hunting scene but could be about animistic beliefs and the relationship between people and animals, or even a shamanic ritual.”
These interpretations seem speculative, and the original inspiration for the painting and its significance to the humans who painted it is likely to remain a mystery.
Researchers analyzed calcite “popcorn” that had built up on the drawings to know the exact age of the painting.
Radioactive uranium in minerals slowly decays into thorium. So the team analyzed the levels of different isotopes of these elements to know the exact date of formation.
They discovered that the calcite on a pig began forming at least 43,900 years ago, and the deposits on two buffalo were at least 40,900 years old.
This artwork may not be the oldest drawing, but researchers believe it could be the ‘oldest story ever found.’
Humanity’s oldest drawings were found in South Africa in 2018, and they dated at 73,000 years old.