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Cave art is 'earliest known record of storytelling'

Credit: Reuters Studio
Published on December 16, 2019 - Duration: 01:46s

Cave art is 'earliest known record of storytelling'

The painting, found in a limestone cave in 2017, was dated to nearly 44,000 years ago using uranium-series analysis, scientists said in the study published last week in the journal Nature.

Sarah Charlton reports.

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Cave art is 'earliest known record of storytelling'

On a wall deep in an Indonesia cave is the ancient outline of an animal.

Humans with animal-like characteristics chasing it fade into the limestone.

The painting was found in the cave in 2017, but now researchers believe it to be the earliest known pictorial record of storytelling - dated to nearly 44,000 years old.

Other animal shapes and hands on the walls in the Sulawesi cave point to the ancient humans once there.

Uranium-series analysis helped date the hunting scene, by assessing the sediment deposits that cover the image.

Until now, the oldest rock art depicting a character with animal characteristics had been an ivory sculpture found in a cave in Germany.

The Indonesian painting is almost 4 thousands years older, according to the study by a team of Indonesian and Australian researchers.

Rock art expert Adhi Agus Oktaviana says some of the Sulawesi caves have sustained damage, and that salt, dust, peeling, microbes and smoke could threaten the art.

(SOUNDBITE) (Bahasa Indonesia) RESEARCHER AT INDONESIA NATIONAL RESEARCH CENTRE FOR ARCHAEOLOGY, ADHI AGUS OKTAVIANA, SAYING: "In Indonesia, it (the cave) is very open, so defects can come from pollution, dust from cement factories, dust from motorcycles, and from the tourists.

Because usually when we arrive inside the cave, our body temperature is still high after climbing inside.

Now, there is a rule from the South Sulawesi Cultural Heritage Conservation Center.

Any visitor who arrives inside the cave should take a break so their body temperature matches the cave temperature." The researchers say cave art in Sulawesi was first discovered in the 1950s, in at least 242 caves and shelters.

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