Warty Pig Cave Painting Discovered in Indonesia is a Game Changer
A team of archaeologists researching in Indonesia have come across what they think is the world’s oldest cave painting. The image has now been found to date back 45,500 years, older than any other image of its kind. The challenge now is to discern whether it was drawn by the hand of a Homo sapiens or another archaic ancestor.
Tracings of the warty pig cave painting which has been discovered on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. (A. A. Oktaviana / Griffith University )
Cave Painting Depicts a Peculiar Pig Scene
In 2017, a team of researchers from Griffith University, Australia, led by Basran Burhan, stumbled upon a unique discovery in the limestone caves near the city of Makassar in Sulawesi, Indonesia. Burhan and his team discovered the image of a wild warty pig drawn onto the walls in red ochre pigment. The full report on the find has just been published in Science Magazine .
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In a Guardian article, Adam Brumm the co-author of the report, describes the scene: “The pig appears to be observing a fight or social interaction between two other warty pigs.” Since only one pig is decipherable in the image, it is unclear just what scene is being played out in the image. Years of wear on the other part of the image makes it hard to determine what the artist is trying to depict, but what we are sure of is that there is a warty pig cave painting that dates back 45,500 years ago drawn on the wall.
Archaeologists determined the painting's age using a technique in which scientists test the calcite deposit that forms on the painting using uranium-series isotope. Some believe that this is just the calcite deposit's age, and the art itself may be older than this calculation. The pig also has two handprints next to its rump area, also colored red, which presumably are the artist’s handprint.
The cave painting was found within the Leang Tedongnge cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. (A. A. Oktaviana / Griffith University )
Over 45,500 Years of Warty Pig Hunts
Sulawesi is an island in Indonesia that is one of the largest in the archipelago. It is located in a region called Wallacea a region between Asia and Australia. This island has been occupied by modern humans for nearly 200,000 years, based on artifacts discovered in the area. Although the warty pig was the most commonly hunted animal in the area, somehow the species has managed to survive until this day. Today its population is decreasing in the area. It is an animal that has been commonly depicted in cave art , especially during the Ice Age .
The image was found in the Leang Tedongnge cave, a cave frequented by the locals but located in a remote area where no westerners have ever visited. Although the site is located next to one of Indonesia's largest cities, the valley in which it is found is surprisingly difficult to get to. The cave itself is located in a town inhabited by Bugis farmers, and is not near any of the roads in Makassar The hike to Leang Tedongnge is only accessible during the dry season due to floods. Only a very narrow entrance allows one to enter the site of the cave.
The warty pig cave painting is miraculously well-preserved, probably due to the difficulty associated with access to the area. (A. A. Oktaviana / Griffith University )
A Most Ancient Art: Which is the Oldest Cave Painting?
The warty pig cave painting is miraculously well-preserved, showing a large pig the painting covers an area of approximately 136 cm by 54 cm. The painting was likely created by taking a mineral rock, grinding it down into a powder, and adding water and other substances to create the red-colored pigment. It is believed that the pig is a depiction of a male warty pig because the facial warts drawn onto the painting are large. The female of the species has much smaller warts.
This is not the oldest example of rock art ever found, the title of which goes to a hashtag-like object painted on a rock flake about 73,000 years ago found in South Africa. But it is the currently the oldest example of animals in cave art . The previous holder of that accolade was another drawing found by the same team in the same region. It depicted a group of part-human, part-animal figures hunting mammals, and was found to be at least 43,900 years old.
Digital tracing of the warty pig cave painting (above) and details of the cave painting (below). (A. A. Oktaviana / Griffith University )
Who Were the Ancient Artists?
It is not certain who may be responsible for creating the ancient cave painting , but is believed this cave painting was created by Homo sapiens rather than Neanderthals. Scientists believe that people leaving Africa, passing through Southeast Asia, and making their way into Australia may have been responsible for creating the cave painting . The handprints on the painting may provide a much more precise answer to this.
When the artist created the painting, it is likely that they left their handprint and then took some of the ochre paint, put it in their mouth, and spit it onto the print. The DNA in the saliva will provide much more evidence as to who may have created this art. For now, the warty pig cave painting has gained its place of privilege as the oldest cave painting depicting an animal in the world.
Top image: Archaeologists on the Indonesian Island of Sulawesi have discovered what appears to be the oldest cave painting depicting an animal in the world, this time a warty pig. Source: A. A. Oktaviana / Griffith University