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World’s Oldest Cave Paintings Discovered In Indonesia


Found in the mountains of South Sulawesi, this prehistoric rock art depicting a pig alongside three human-like figures has been named the oldest cave painting on Earth.

A A Oktaviana et al/Griffith University/Nature 2024This 51,200-year-old rock art that may depict a hunting scene has been named the world’s oldest cave painting.

In recent years, researchers have been uncovering prehistoric cave art in remote locations across Indonesia. In 2018, they discovered the oldest-known depiction of animals in a cave on the island of Sulawesi. A year later, they found the earliest example of narrative cave art ever discovered.

Now, a new dating method has revealed the age of one piece of Indonesian rock art first uncovered in 2017 — and it dates back a record-breaking 51,200 years, making it the oldest cave painting in the world.

This historic discovery pushes back the timeline for both the origins of human art and our species’ evolution of the capacity for complex, abstract thought.

The Discovery Of The World’s Oldest Cave Paintings

Site Of Earliest Cave ArtSite Of Earliest Cave Art

A A Oktaviana et al/ Griffith University/ Nature 2024A map showing the area on the island of Sulawesi where the world’s earliest cave art was found.

In recent years, researchers have increasingly been uncovering prehistoric cave art on the islands of Southeast Asia. In 2018, archaeologists discovered what was then the world’s oldest depiction of animals in Borneo. The artwork, depicting three cows, dates back more than 40,000 years.

Then, in 2019, researchers discovered an even older rock art depiction of animals on the island of Sulawesi, this time dating back 44,000 years.

Now, researchers believe they have found nearby cave paintings that are even older still. Originally discovered in 2017, a depiction of three human-like figures interacting with a pig in Leang Karampuang cave on South Sulawesi was dated using a new technique.

Researchers used lasers to cut the rock into small pieces that could be easily tested. The new method is “a major leap forward in tightening up the resolution and accuracy of dating,” Tristen Jones, a rock art expert at the University of Sydney, told the Guardian.

Shockingly, this new method revealed that the Leang Karampuang rock art was at least 51,200 years old, making it the oldest cave art ever discovered.

Researchers distinguish between this surviving painting found on a cave wall and a 73,000-year-old line drawing made with a kind of primitive crayon that was found on a small, loose stone inside a South African cave in 2018.

Digging Deeper Into The Story Of The Earliest Cave Art Ever Found

Researchers Who Discovered Oldest Cave PaintingResearchers Who Discovered Oldest Cave Painting

Ratno Sardi/CC-BY 4.0 DeedThe team of researchers behind the discovery of the world’s oldest cave paintings.

According to their newly-published study in the journal Nature, the researchers used a dating technique called laser ablation uranium-series imaging. The team lasered off pieces of the rock, measuring just 0.002 inches long. These smaller samples allow researchers to get a higher-resolution analysis of the cave’s calcite deposits.

These deposits grow over time, allowing researchers to date rock art buried under them. This technique also prevents damage that previous methods often inflicted.

When the research team concluded their testing, the age of the rock art left them astounded.

“These depictions from Indonesia are pushing back the dates back nearly 20,000 years earlier, which is groundbreaking, really,” Derek Hodgson, an archaeologist and scientific advisor for a European research group investigating the development of writing, told Live Science.

As for the purpose of the world’s oldest cave paintings and the meaning behind them, researchers believe that this rock art both tells a story and may serve a spiritual function. The positioning of the human figures in relation to the pig, for instance, could suggest that this art depicts a hunting scene.

“It’s possible that people, these early humans, were only going up into these high-level caves to make this art,” study co-author Maxime Aubert, an archaeologist and geochemist at Griffith University, told Live Science. “Perhaps there were stories and rituals associated with the viewing of the art, we don’t know. But these seem to be special places in the landscape.”

Now, researchers hope to continue their studies to piece together a historical timeline of prehistoric activity in the area and better understand the story of when, how, and why humans created the world’s oldest cave paintings.


After reading about the world’s oldest cave art, step inside 11 astonishing underground cities around the globe. Then, read about the mysterious Nazca Lines, the mysterious drawings spanning more than 100 miles in Peru.

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