Category Archives: INDONESIA

18,000 Years Ago, Humans Raised World’s Most Dangerous Bird as Pets: Study

18,000 Years Ago, Humans Raised World’s Most Dangerous Bird as Pets: Study

As early as 18,000 years ago, humans in New Guinea may have collected cassowary eggs near maturity and then raised the birds to adulthood, according to an international team of scientists, who used eggshells to determine the developmental stage of the ancient embryos/chicks when the eggs cracked.

“This behaviour that we are seeing is coming thousands of years before the domestication of the chicken,” said Kristina Douglass, assistant professor of anthropology and African studies, Penn State. “And this is not some small fowl, it is a huge, ornery, flightless bird that can eviscerate you. Most likely the dwarf variety that weighs 20 kilos (44 pounds).”

The researchers report today (Sept. 27) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that “the data presented here may represent the earliest indication of human management of the breeding of an avian taxon anywhere in the world, preceding the early domestication of chicken and geese by several millennia.”

Cassowaries are not chickens; in fact, they bear more resemblance to velociraptors than most domesticated birds. “However, cassowary chicks imprint readily to humans and are easy to maintain and raise up to adult size,” the researchers report.

Imprinting occurs when a newly hatched bird decides that the first thing it sees is its mother. If that first glance happens to catch sight of a human, the bird will follow the human anywhere. According to the researchers, cassowary chicks are still traded as a commodity in New Guinea.

Importance of eggshells

Eggshells are part of the assemblage of many archaeological sites, but according to Douglass, archaeologists do not often study them. The researchers developed a new method to determine how old a chick embryo was when an egg was harvested. They reported this work in a recent issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

A captive, modern adult cassowary.

“I’ve worked on eggshells from archaeological sites for many years,” said Douglass. “I discovered research on turkey eggshells that showed changes in the eggshells over the course of development that was an indication of age. I decided this would be a useful approach.”

The age assignment of the embryos/chicks depends on the 3-dimensional features of the inside of the shell. To develop the method needed to determine the eggs’ developmental age when the shells broke, the researchers used ostrich eggs from a study done to improve ostrich reproduction.

Researchers at the Oudtshoorn Research Farm, part of the Western Cape Government of South Africa, harvested three eggs every day of incubation for 42 days for their study and supplied Douglass and her team with samples from 126 ostrich eggs.

They took four samples from each of these eggs for a total of 504 shell samples, each having a specific age. They created high-resolution, 3D images of the shell samples. By inspecting the inside of these eggs, the researcher created a statistical assessment of what the eggs looked like during stages of incubation.

The researchers then tested their model with modern ostrich and emu eggs of known age. The insides of the eggshells change through development because the developing chicks get calcium from the eggshell. Pits begin to appear in the middle of development.

“It is time-dependent, but a little more complicated,” said Douglass. “We used a combination of 3D imaging, modelling and morphological descriptions.”

The researchers then turned to legacy shell collections from two sites in New Guinea—Yuku and Kiowa. They applied their approach to more than 1,000 fragments of these 18,000- to 6,000-year-old eggs.

“What we found was that a large majority of the eggshells were harvested during late stages,” said Douglass. “The eggshells look very late; the pattern is not random. They were either into eating baluts or they are hatching chicks.”

A balut is a nearly developed embryo chick usually boiled and eaten as street food in parts of Asia. The original archaeologists found no indication of penning for the cassowaries. The few cassowary bones found at sites are only those of the meaty portions—leg and thigh—suggesting these were hunted birds, processed in the wild and only the meatiest parts got hauled home.

“We also looked at burning on the eggshells,” said Douglass. “There are enough samples of late-stage eggshells that do not show burning that we can say they were hatching and not eating them.”

To successfully hatch and raise cassowary chicks, the people would need to know where the nests were, know when the eggs were laid and remove them from the nest just before hatching. Back in the late Pleistocene, according to Douglass, humans were purposefully collecting these eggs and this study suggests people were not just harvesting eggs to eat the contents.

Also working on this project from Penn State were Priyangi Bulathsinhala, assistant teaching professor of statistics; Tim Tighe, assistant research professor, Materials Research Institute; and Andrew L. Mack, grants and contract coordinator, Penn State Altoona.

Others working on the project include Dylan Gaffney, graduate student, University of Cambridge, U.K.; Theresa J. Feo, senior science officer, California Council of Science and Technology; and Megan Spitzer, research assistant; Scott Whittaker, manager, scientific imaging; Helen James, research zoologist and curator of birds; and Torben Rick, curator of North American Archaeology, all at the Natural Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Glenn R. Summerhayes, professor of archaeology, University of Otago, New Zealand; and Zanell Brand, production scientist, Oudtshoorn Research Farm, Elsenburg, Department of Agriculture, Western Cape Government, South Africa, also worked on the project.

DNA of a female hunter-gatherer, buried 7,000 years ago in Indonesia, reveals population history of SE Asia

DNA of a female hunter-gatherer, buried 7,000 years ago in Indonesia, reveals population history of SE Asia

A team of archaeological geneticists has reconstructed the genome of a female hunter-gatherer from the Indonesian archipelago, which sheds significant light on the population history of southeast Asia.

This study reports the first known human genome from Leang Panninge in Wallacea, an oceanic island in the middle of the continental shelves of Sahul and Sunda.

Although anatomically modern humans are posited to have crossed over to Australia from Asia as early as 65,000 years ago, the oldest dated Homo sapiens remains come from only 13,000 years ago.

DNA of a female hunter-gatherer, buried 7,000 years ago in Indonesia, reveals population history of SE Asia
The DNA was sequenced from the petrous bone, a small bone in the ear region of the skull.

One of the reasons is the tropical climate, which decomposes natural tissues quite quickly and is therefore not very conducive to the preservation of any remains. Previously, only two ancient human genomes, one from Laos and another from Malaysia, had been sequenced from southeast Asia.

Hunting gathering is a lifestyle that is associated with the Palaeolithic (3 million years ago to 10,000 years ago) in the archaeological record. This lifestyle was largely replaced by the adoption of agriculture and domestication of animals and plants, widely known as the Neolithic Revolution (10,000 to 8000 years ago). However, some hunter-gatherer groups have managed to survive to the present day and have been the subject of many anthropological inquiries.

Reconstruction of genetic history

The present study employed molecular markers with different modes of inheritance to examine the genetic history of the individual from Leang Panninge.

While nuclear DNA (nrDNA) is biparentally inherited i.e. approximately half coming from the mother and half from the father, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) shows uniparental inheritance i.e. it is inherited exclusively from the mother. Studies targeting more molecular markers than one enables a better reconstruction of the genetic history of a population.

The DNA was sequenced from the petrous bone, a small bone in the ear region of the skull. The petrous, in recent years, has been targeted extensively for ancient DNA for its remarkable preservation of genetic material.

Since there is a paucity of a wide number of ancient individuals, any ancient DNA study has to be compared with the known genetic history of present-day populations in the region, which, in this case, were southeast Asia, Papua New Guinea, Australia and other Oceanian islands.

Who was her ancestor?

Genetic analyses reveal that the individual shares significant genetic ancestry with the present-day populations of Oceania — Australia, Papua New Guinea and other island groups.

a.Sulawesi and Wallacea. The red rectangle indicates the region shown in b. b, Leang Panninge.

Selina Carlhoff, the lead author of the study, clarified in an email: “In direct comparisons, we show that these Near Oceanian groups are more closely related to each other than to Leang Panninge…which would place Leang Panninge outside of that clade.”

The populations of Oceania and Eurasia are supposed to have diverged 58,000 years ago, and the Papuan and Australian people around 37,000 years ago, which is also when the Leang Panninge individual had branched off.

While this was going on, populations from these areas had seen multiple introductions of genetic material from the Denisovans (Denisovans are an extinct species of early hominins that ranged across Asia during the Palaeolithic).

Researchers identified another genetic ancestral lineage in the ancient genome of the individual that seems more closely related to deep Asian lineages.

“Considering the Leang Panninge individual as an admixture between a Near Oceanian- and a deep East Asian-related lineage may also explain the reduced amount of Denisovan-related ancestry compared to present-day Papuan groups,” Carlhoff added.

Given the dearth of pre-Neolithic genomes from the region, it is difficult to underpin the exact source of admixtures. It could be that this individual carries some ancestry from the first Homo sapiens inhabitants of Sulawesi around 50,000 years ago, or that a Southeast Asian group related to the present-day Andamanese people had contributed some genetic material.

DNA from a teenage girl who died 7,200 years ago reveals previously unknown humans

DNA from a teenage girl who died 7,200 years ago reveals previously unknown humans

The bones of a teenage hunter-gatherer who died more than 7,000 years ago on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi tell the story of a previously unknown group of humans. This distinct human lineage has never been found anywhere else in the world, according to new research.

The study was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

DNA from teenage girl who died 7,200 years ago reveals previously unknown humans
The skeletal remains of an ancient teenage Toalean woman were nestled among large rocks, which were placed in the burial pit discovered in a cave on Sulawesi.

“We have discovered the first ancient human DNA in the island region between Asia and Australia, known as ‘Wallacea’, providing new insight into the genetic diversity and population history of early modern humans in this little-understood part of the world,” said the study co-author Adam Brumm, a professor of archaeology at Griffith University’s Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, via email.

The Leang Panninge cave is where researchers uncovered the remains of a young hunter-gatherer from 7,000 years ago.

The first modern humans used the Wallacea islands, mainly Indonesian islands that include Sulawesi, Lombok and Flores, as they crossed from Eurasia to the Australian continent more than 50,000 years ago, researchers believe. The exact route or how they navigated this crossing, however, is unknown.

“They must have done so using relatively sophisticated watercraft of some kind, as there were no land bridges between the islands, even during the glacial peaks of the last ice age, when global sea levels were up to 140 meters (459 feet) lower than they are today,” Brumm said.
Tools and cave paintings have suggested that humans were living on these islands by 47,000 years ago, but the fossil record is sparse and ancient DNA degrades more rapidly in the tropical climate.

However, researchers uncovered the skeleton of a female between the ages of 17 and 18 in a cave on Sulawesi in 2015. Her remains were buried in the cave 7,200 years ago. She was part of the Toalean culture, only found in a pocket of Sulawesi’s southwestern peninsula. The cave is part of an archaeological site called Leang Panninge.

Maro’s points are associated with the Toalean culture.

“The ‘Toaleans’ is the name archaeologists have given to a rather enigmatic culture of prehistoric hunter-gatherers that lived in the forested plains and mountains of South Sulawesi between around 8,000 years ago until roughly the fifth century AD,” said Brumm via email. “They made highly distinctive stone tools (including tiny, finely crafted arrowheads known as ‘Maros points’) that are not found anywhere else on the island or in wider Indonesia.”

The young hunter-gatherer is the first largely complete and well-preserved skeleton associated with the Toalean culture, Brumm said.
Lead study author Selina Carlhoff was able to retrieve DNA from the wedge-shaped petrous bone at the base of the skull.

“It was a major challenge, as the remains had been strongly degraded by the tropical climate,” said Carlhoff, also a doctoral candidate at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, in a statement.

Secrets hiding in DNA

The work to retrieve the genetic information was well worth it.
The young woman’s DNA showed that she descended from the first wave of modern humans to enter Wallacea 50,000 years ago. This was part of the initial colonization of “Greater Australia,” or the combined ice age landmass of Australia and New Guinea. These are the ancestors of present-day Indigenous Australians and Papuans, Brumm said.

Fragmentary remains of the girl’s skull were used to retrieve her DNA.

And it turns out that the oldest genome traced to the Wallacea islands revealed something else: previously unknown ancient humans.
She also shares ancestry with a separate and distinct group from Asia who likely arrived after the colonization of Greater Australia — because modern Indigenous Australians and Papuans don’t share ancestry with this group, Brumm said.

“Previously, it was thought that the first time people with Asian genes entered Wallacea was around 3,500 years ago when Austronesian-speaking farmers from Neolithic Taiwan swept down through the Philippines and into Indonesia,” he said.

“It suggests that there might have been a distinct group of modern humans in this region that we really had no idea about up until now, as archaeological sites are so scarce in Wallacea and ancient skeletal remains are rare.”

No descendants of this lineage remain.

Her genome included another trace of an enigmatic and extinct group of humans: Denisovans. The handful of fossils signifying that these early humans ever existed are largely from Siberia and Tibet.

“The fact that their genes are found in the hunter-gatherers of Leang Panninge supports our earlier hypothesis that the Denisovans occupied a far larger geographical area” than previously understood, said study co-author Johannes Krause, a professor of archaeogenetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, in a statement.

But when her DNA was compared with that of other hunter-gatherers who lived west of Wallacea at the same time, their DNA didn’t contain any traces of Denisovan DNA.

“The geographic distribution of Denisovans and modern humans may have overlapped in the Wallacea region. It may well be the key place where Denisova people and the ancestors of indigenous Australians and Papuans interbred,” said study coauthor Cosimo Posth, a professor at the University of Tübingen’s Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment in Frankfurt, Germany, in a statement.

Researchers don’t know what happened to the Toalean culture, and this latest discovery is one piece of the puzzle as they try to understand the ancient genetic history of humans in Southeast Asia. Brumm hopes that more ancient DNA from the Toalean people can be recovered to reveal its diversity “and its wider ancestral story.”

Indonesia’s Early Rock Art Damaged by Climate Change

Indonesia’s Early Rock Art Damaged by Climate Change

Cosmos Magazine reports that climate change is rapidly weathering rock art at the Maros-Pangkep site in Sulawesi, Indonesia, which dates to at least 44,000 years ago.

Local archaeologists and site keepers for the ancient artworks of Maros-Pangkep in Sulawesi, including intergenerational custodians, told the scientists that the rock art “is disappearing now faster than any other time in living memory,” says lead author Jillian Huntley from Griffith University, Australia.

The paintings are dated up to at least 44,000 years ago, during the Pleistocene era. Rivalling European cave art, the illustrations of hunting scenes and mystical beings are thought to be the oldest evidence of figurative art and artistic creativity on the planet.

Advanced decay of recently discovered rock art at Leang Tedongnge. This Warty Pig is part of a panel dated to more than 45,500 years in age. Credit: Basran Burhan.
Staff from the BPCB conservation agency undertaking rock art monitoring in Maros-Pangkep.

Upon investigating the chemistry of the limestone rock face, Huntley and colleagues were surprised to find pervasive evidence of salt crystallisation (haloclasty). “When I saw how high some of the chemical indicators for salts like gypsum were, I was astonished,” she says.

The salts chemically weaken the rock and mechanically separate the surface of the panels from the limestone wall and ceiling, causing the rock art to flake off the walls.

The team conducted further analysis of the types of salts to understand what was causing them to form and reviewed paleoclimate records. Results suggest natural geological weathering processes in the tropical region are being exacerbated.

“These processes are accelerated by increasing temperatures, more extreme weather,” Huntley explains: “more consecutive dry days, prolonged droughts, water from storms and flood and increasing humidity from standing water in floods and food production such as rice field and aquaculture ponds.”

Next to extensive quarry mining of limestone, the weathering poses the greatest threat to the preservation of the irreplaceable cave art, the authors say.

“The amount we have learned from studying this rock art just in the last few years is staggering,” says Huntley. It “houses the earliest yet known animal depiction and the first complex narrative scene yet found. These are important markers of people’s cognitive and social capacities.”

Another example of the wide-ranging impacts of climate change, the discovery underscores the importance of research and conservation efforts in Maros-Pangkep and across Australasia, where more sites are being discovered every year, she adds.

“We are in a race against time to document and learn from this rock art before it is irrevocably damaged.”

The Exceptional Discovery: Hindu Temple At Bali-Indonesia 5000+ Years Old Underwater

The Exceptional Discovery: Hindu Temple At Bali-Indonesia 5000+ Years Old Underwater

Hinduism is the world’s oldest Civilization having a history of over 12000 years; had influence almost across the World till western Abrahamic religions formed some 2,500 years back which are rejecting/destroying great ancient human heritage wherever they spread!

The island of Bali is part of the world’s largest Muslim country, Indonesia, but Bali’s population is over 90% Hindu. Much of Indonesia was Hindu prior to the arrival of Muslims in the 13th to 16th centuries.

The impressive ancient temples of the Hindus can be found on Java and many other Islands, but Bali has the most temples, and the most unusual temple. The “Devata Vishnu” temple is underwater – 90 feet beneath the ocean’s surface near Pemuteran Beach in North West Bali.

East Asia is the ultimate region where you will find many Hindu/Buddhist ancient temples.

The famous ones include Angor Wat (Cambodia) and ones in Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Korea, Japan, China, etc. These temples, dating back many years are mostly in a dilapidated state and efforts are being made to restore them.

Hinduism- one of the world’s oldest Civilizations has placed its traces all over the world. Some of those traces discovered in recent times of technology are unbelievable and are beyond the justification of mankind!

One such unusual temple found on the Island of Bali is a Delight to Human eyes on its own. The ‘Devata Vishnu’ temple is underwater – 90 feet beneath the ocean’s surface near Pemuteran Beach in North West Bali.

This amazing Building & Architecture Technology of ‘Sanatan Dharma’ was converted into a Temple Garden in 2005 for promoting tourism in Indonesia.

Recently the Government of Vietnam, despite its official Communist doctrine, has developed many programs and projects highlighting Vietnam’s ancient religious heritage. Its scholarly and Archaeological research and investigations are legitimate and its conclusions are authoritative.

This discovery of a 5000- 4500-year-old Vishnu sculpture is truly historic and it sheds new light upon our understanding of the history of not only Hinduism but of the entire world.

The Exceptional Discovery: Hindu Temple At Bali-Indonesia 5000+ Years Old Underwater

A number of stories and pictures circulating online for a few years state that an ancient Hindu Temple was discovered deep in the middle of the sea, off the coast of Pemuteran, Bali in Indonesia.

It is also said that the amazing underwater temple was built about a thousand years ago and it was converted into a Temple Garden to promote tourism in the year 2005. The facts claimed about the temple is not a hoax but a fact.

‘Pemuteran is a small coastal village in the town of Bali, 50 kilometres west of Singaraja, Indonesia. Beneath the surface of its calm waters lies the underwater Balinese Hindu temple with a majestic split gate (temple structure) and statues of mythological creatures.

The location named as Taman Pura (Temple Garden) was an idea of Chris Brown (affectionately called Pak Nyoman), an Australian who has been dedicated to conserving the natural beauty of Pemuteran village and the well-being of its people.’

World’s Oldest Art Identified in Half-Million-Year-Old Zigzag

World’s Oldest Art Identified in Half-Million-Year-Old Zigzag

About half a million years ago, early homo Erectus on java was already using freshwater mussel shells as weapons and as a “canvas” for engraving. An international team of researchers, led by Leiden archaeologist José Joordens, published this discovery Nature.

The discovery provides new insights into the evolution of human behaviour.

Not only Homo sapiens made engravings

“Until this discovery, it was assumed that comparable engravings were only made by modern humans (Homo sapiens) in Africa, starting about 100,000 years ago,” says lead author José Joordens, a researcher at the Faculty of Archaeology at Leiden University.

World’s Oldest Art Identified in Half-Million-Year-Old Zigzag
Scientists found deliberate scratching on a fossil Pseudodon, likely an engraving made by Homo erectus at Trinil in Indonesia.

A team of 21 researchers studied hundreds of fossil shells and associated finds and sediments from the Homo erectus site Trinil, on the Indonesian island of Java.

The shells are part of the Dubois Collection that has been held at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center since the end of the 19th century. The shells were excavated by the Dutch physician and researcher Eugène Dubois, the discoverer of Pithecanthropus erectus — now known as Homo erectus.

Engravings older than weathering

The discovery of an engraved geometrical pattern on one of the shells came as a total surprise. The zig-zag pattern, which can only be seen with oblique lighting, is clearly older than the weathering processes on the shell arising from fossilization.

The study has excluded the possibility that the pattern could have been caused by animals or by natural weathering processes and shows that the ‘zigzag’ pattern is the work of Homo erectus.

Five hundred thousand years old

By applying two dating methods, researchers at the VU University Amsterdam and Wageningen University have determined that the shell with the engraving is minimally 430,000 and maximally 540,000 years old. This means that the engraving is at least four times older than the previously oldest known engravings, found in Africa.

Purpose or meaning of the engraving?

“It’s fantastic that this engraved shell has been discovered in a museum collection where it has been held for more than a hundred years. I can imagine people may be wondering whether this can be seen as a form of early art,” says Wil Roebroeks, Professor of Palaeolithic Archaeology at Leiden University.

Viewed up close, one fossil Pseudodon shell from Java shows evidence of engraving.
See the hole on the inside of this fossil Pseudodon shell? Homo erectus likely bored into the shell at exactly at the spot where the adductor muscle attaches to pop it open.

He was able to finance this long-term research with his NWO Spinoza Prize. “At the moment we have no clue about the meaning or purpose of this engraving.”

Early human-like mussel collector

This research has shown that these early human-like people were very clever about how they opened these large freshwater mussels; they drilled a hole through the shell using a sharp object, possibly a shark’s tooth, exactly at the point where the muscle is attached that keeps the shell closed.

“The precision with which these early humans worked indicates great dexterity and detailed knowledge of mollusc anatomy,” says Frank Wesselingh, a researcher and expert on fossil shells at Naturalis. The molluscs were eaten and the empty shells were used to manufacture tools, such as knives.

Possible follow-on research

This discovery from the historical Dubois collection sheds unexpected new light on the skills and behavior of Homo erectus and indicates that Asia is a promising and, so far, relatively unexplored area for finding intriguing artifacts.

From the Netherlands, researchers at Leiden University, the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the universities of Wageningen and Delft, and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands were involved in the research.

This research is being financed by research funding from the NWO Spinoza Prize.

Archaeologists Have Discovered a Pristine 45,000-Year-Old Cave Painting of a Pig That May Be the Oldest Artwork in the World

Archaeologists Have Discovered a Pristine 45,000-Year-Old Cave Painting of a Pig That May Be the Oldest Artwork in the World

Archaeologists have discovered the world’s oldest known animal cave painting in Indonesia – a wild pig – believed to be drawn 45,500 years ago. Painted using dark red ochre pigment, the life-sized picture of the Sulawesi warty pig appears to be part of a narrative scene.

Archaeologists Have Discovered a Pristine 45,000-Year-Old Cave Painting of a Pig That May Be the Oldest Artwork in the World
This painting of a wild pig in the Leang Tedongnge cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi is thought to be the oldest representational art in the world.

The picture was found in the Leang Tedongnge cave in a remote valley on the island of Sulawesi. It provides the earliest evidence of human settlement of the region.

“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,” said Maxime Aubert, the co-author of the report published in Science Advances journal.

A dating specialist, Mr. Aubert had identified a calcite deposit that had formed on top of the painting and used Uranium-series isotope dating to determine that the deposit was 45,500 years old.

This makes the artwork at least that old. “But it could be much older because the dating that we’re using only dates the calcite on top of it,” he added.

The world’s oldest-known representational art was recently discovered on the back wall of Leang Tedongnge cave.

The report says that the painting, which measures 136cm by 54cm (53in by 21in), depicts a pig with horn-like facial warts characteristic of adult males of the species.

There are two handprints above the back of the pig, which also appears to be facing two other pigs that are only partially preserved. Co-author Adam Brumm said: “The pig appears to be observing a fight or social interaction between two other warty pigs.”

This painting of three pigs, now thought to be the world’s oldest-known representational art, has been damaged over the millennia, leaving only one figure intact.

To make the handprints, the artists would have had to place their hands on a surface before spitting pigment over it, the researchers said. The team hopes to be able to extract DNA samples from the residual saliva as well.

The painting maybe the world’s oldest art depicting a figure, but it is not the oldest human-produced art.

In South Africa, a hashtag-like doodle created 73,000 years ago is believed to be the oldest known drawing.

‘Stand by for more discoveries’

This stone flake marked with ochre was discovered in Blombos Cave in South Africa.

Sulawesi is in a key location. It’s the largest island in a group that scientists often refer to as Wallacea after the great 19/20th Century naturalist Alfred Wallace.

The group sits on a dividing line, either side of which you find very different animals and plants.

But Wallacea’s significance also is that it must have been a stepping stone for modern humans as they made their way to Australia. We know they were on that landmass some 65,000 years ago, so it’s reasonable to assume they were also on Sulawesi at the same time or even earlier.

This raises the tantalizing prospect of there being figurative art out there, either on Sulawesi or the immediate islands, that are older still than 45,500 years old.

The limestone hills about an hour’s drive from Makassar have innumerable nooks and crannies, just like the cave at Leang Tedongnge.

Stand by for more discoveries.

The expectation is that even older paintings will be discovered

World’s Oldest Known Figurative Paintings Discovered in Borneo Cave Indonesia

World’s Oldest Known Figurative Paintings Discovered in Borneo Cave Indonesia

According to recent research that indicates that humans may have taken this art tradition with them as they moved from Africa, prehistoric cave paintings of animals and human hands in Indonesia are as old as similar paintings found in Western Europe.

Limestone karst of East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo

“Until now, we’ve always believed that cave painting was part of a suite of complex symbolic behaviour that humans invented in Europe,” says archaeologist Alistair Pike of the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom. “This is actually showing that it’s highly unlikely that the origin of painting caves was in Europe.”

For decades, Indonesian researchers have known about rock art in limestone caves and rock shelters on an island called Sulawesi. The hand stencils and images of local animals, such as the “pig-deer,” or babirusa, were assumed to be less than 10,000 years old because scientists thought that the humid tropical environment would have destroyed anything older.

The oldest dated hand stencil in the world (upper right) and possibly the oldest figurative depiction in cave art—a female babirusa (a hoglike animal also called a pig-deer)—were found in Leang Timpuseng cave in Sulawesi, an island east of Borneo.

“The truth of it was, no one had really tried to date it,” says Matt Tocheri of the Human Origins Program of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. “It’s not easy to date rock art.”

Now, though, in the journal Nature, a group of researchers from Indonesia and Australia, led by Maxime Aubert and Adam Brumm, have analyzed mineral deposits that formed on top of these paintings in seven caves.

Their analysis shows that one hand stencil is at least 39,900 years old and a painting of a babirusa is at least 35,400 years old.

Those ages are comparable to the age of a painted rhinoceros from the famous Chauvet Cave in France, which has been dated to 35,300 to 38,827 years ago. The oldest known cave painting is a red disk found on the wall of a Spanish cave that’s at least 40,800 years old.

This painting of a cattle-like animal in a Borneo cave has been dated at at least 40,000 years old, making it the oldest known figurative rock art in the world.

The fact that people in Indonesia were also painting cave walls way back then suggests “it is possible that rock art emerged independently at around the same time and at roughly both ends of the spatial distribution of early modern humans,” the research team writes in Nature.

But another possibility is that this type of art is much older, though scientists haven’t found evidence of it in the archaeological record.

“When something like this shows up almost instantaneously, all over the distribution of humans, within say 10,000 years, the odds are it’s something from our ancestors,” says John Shea of Stony Brook University in New York.

In Africa, our species goes back 200,000 years, Shea notes. But archaeological sites there tend to be found in shallow caves that are relatively exposed to wind and the hot, humid conditions — unlike the deep, cold caves in Europe that are ideal for preserving artwork.

Human figures from East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. This style is dated to at least 13,600 years ago but could possibly date to the height of the last Glacial Maximum 20,000 years ago.
Composition of mulberry-coloured hand stencils superimposed over older reddish/orange hand stencils. The two styles are separated in time by at least 20,000 years.

“What we can find in older archaeological sites is evidence of symbolic behaviour, such as the production of little beads and personal adornments, the production of mineral pigments — of red ochre and other kinds of coloured pigments that people used, presumably, to decorate themselves — and traces of artistic embellishments on stone tools and on bone artefacts,” says Shea.

Figurative artwork depicting animals has been found on stone slabs in a rock shelter known as Apollo 11 in Namibia, points out Alison Brooks of George Washington University, who says these images were made more than 30,000 years ago.

“What this suggests is that this whole ability to make these things and possibly the tradition of making them is part of the cultural repertoire of the people who left Africa,” says Brooks.

She says that the paintings in Indonesia are very similar to images seen in Europe — for example, the babirusa in profile, with hair, is similar to European depictions of hairy mammoths.

But the Indonesian animals have stick legs and feet, instead of more detailed limbs. And there’s a hint of a red line that might depict the ground surface of the land that the animal is standing on, which is not found in other places.

“There are some things that are a little bit different about this,” says Brooks, though “it does seem to be that its part of the tradition.”