JAKARTA (Reuters) – A cave painting found on Indonesia's Sulawesi Island depicting human figures hunting animals seems to be the first known pictorial record of storytelling, according to a study by a team of Australian and Indonesian researchers.
A team of archaeologists and researchers from the Indonesian National Research Center for Archeology and Griffith University, works at the Leang Bulu & Sipong 4 limestone cave in South Sulawesi, Indonesia on December 4, 2019. Photo taken 4 of December 2019. Courtesy of National Research Center for Indonesia Archeology / Griffith University / Brochure via REUTERS THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY THIRD PARTIES. OBLIGATORY CREDIT
The painting, found in a limestone cave in 2017, was dated almost 44,000 years ago using analyzes of uranium series, they said in a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
It shows eight teriantropes, or animal-like humans, seeming to chase and kill six animals, like the island's native wart hogs, using what appear to be spears and ropes.
"The portrayal of several hunters confronting at least two prey species possibly suggests a hunting trip, a community hunt where animals are indiscriminately removed from cover and directed at waiting hunters," the researchers said.
Until now, the earliest rock art depicting a character with the characteristics of an animal was an ivory sculpture found in a cave in Germany. Thought to date back 40,000 years, it describes a human body attached to a feline head.
Indonesian rock painting also provided some of the earliest evidence of human spirituality, said study co-author Adam Brumm, an archaeologist at Australia's Griffith University.
"Teriantropes occur in the folklore or narrative fiction of almost all modern societies and are perceived as gods, spirits or ancestral beings in many religions around the world," he said in a statement.
The research was conducted in collaboration with Indonesia's National Archaeological Research Center and scientists from the cultural heritage department of Makassar, the provincial capital.
Griffith's researchers said cave art in Sulawesi was first discovered in the 1950s, with at least 242 caves and shelters containing these documented images ever since.
Some of the caves have suffered damage that could threaten art, said rock art expert Adhi Agus Oktaviana, pointing to threats of salt, dust, peeling, microbes and smoke.
"It would be a tragedy if these exceptionally old works of art disappeared into our lives, but it's happening," added Oktaviana, who is a Ph.D. student at Griffith.
Stanley Widianto report; Editing by Ed Davies and Clarence Fernandez
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