Oldest cave painting in world suggests religion began in Indonesia not Europe

The painting found on the island of Sulawesi depicts a complex scene of a hunting party. Adam Brumm  Nature

The painting found on the island of Sulawesi depicts a complex scene of a hunting party. Adam Brumm Nature

Since the 1950s, scholars have documented more than 240 cave art sites on Sulawesi, but for a long time they were thought to be no older than about 12,000 years.

"(The scene) may be regarded not only as the earliest dated figurative art in the world but also as the oldest evidence for the communication of a narrative in Paleolithic art", researchers said.

"They are at least 40,000 years old, which was a very, very surprising discovery", says Adam Brumm, an archaeologist at Griffith University in Australia.

"Anoas are small in size, but they are reportedly very fierce, especially when cornered", Brumm said.

The dwarf buffalo species pictured still inhabits forests on the island. "Indeed, the reputation of anoas is such that the Indonesian army even named their armored personnel carrier, the Anoa, after these creatures".

The artwork in Indonesia is almost twice as old as any previous hunting scene and provides unprecedented insights into the earliest storytelling and the emergence of modern human cognition.

"Who knows what other amazingly old images that could change our understanding of human evolution are out there now in undiscovered caves in Indonesia", Brumm says, "peeling away as we speak".

It reveals a team of fragment-human, fragment-animal figures, identified as therianthropes, making an try trim mammals with what's believed to be either spears or ropes.

Image 1 of 5The panel of cave art found in Sulawesi shows what may be half-human, half-animal beings called therianthropes. Instead, research suggest the figures are human-animal hybrids - supernatural creatures. One appears to be roping or spearing a pig, and six others seem to be teaming up on a buffalo.

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The ability to imagine beings that don't exist is a critical cognitive milestone, Aubert says, and forms the roots of religion and spirituality.

But several years ago, a group of scientists started dating cave paintings in Indonesia - and found that they are thousands of years older.

The painting on the island of Sulawesi shows a complex scene of a hunting party.

The prehistoric hunting scene shows possible therianthropes hunting wild pigs and dwarf buffaloes in Indonesia. The received wisdom is that humanity's first rock art appeared in Europe and consisted of abstract symbols.

Previously, a lion-headed male figurine carved from ivory in what's now Germany 39,000 to 40,000 years ago held that title. Scenes that depicted multiple interacting subjects were not thought to have developed until about 20,000 years ago.

Professor Aubert acknowledged: "The cave characterize from Leang Bulu" Sipong 4 suggests that there became once no slack evolution of Palaeolithic art work from easy to advanced around 35,000 years within the past - as a minimal no longer in Southeast Asia.

The scientists noted that they had uncovered hundreds of cave sites with paintings in the Maros-Pangkep limestone karst region of Sulawesi whose ages they had yet to date. For example, in 2014, they found that a limestone cave in this area harbored one of the world's oldest rock-art motifs, a sprayed, red outline of a human hand created at least 40,000 years ago.

Researchers slack the glimpse indicate the inclusion of therianthropes may maybe well uncover that Indonesian cave art work racy non secular-esteem pondering focused around the human-animal connection. That includes the site in the new study.

Oktaviana said his rock art surveys in Maros-Pangkep with Brumm and Aubert have uncovered many new cave sites with spectacular figurative paintings that still await dating, but he has also observed the alarming deterioration of this art at nearly every location - including Leang Bulu' Sipong 4. They published their findings in the journal Nature.

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