homeaboutarchivepodcastnewslettermembership!
aboutarchivepodcastmembership!
aboutarchivemembers!

This Sulawesi Warty Pig Is the World’s Oldest Figurative Artwork

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2021

cave painting of a pig

According to a study published this week, archaeologists have determined that a recently discovered cave painting of a warty pig is at least 45,500 years old. From the NY Times:

In a hidden valley on an Indonesian island, there is a cave decorated with what may be the oldest figurative art ever glimpsed by modern eyes.

The vivid depiction of a wild pig, outlined and filled in with mulberry-hued pigment, dates back at least 45,500 years, according to a study published on Wednesday in Science Advances. It was discovered deep inside a cave called Leang Tedongnge in December 2017, during an archaeological survey led by Basran Burhan, a graduate student at Griffith University and co-author of the new research. The animal in the painting resembles the warty pig, a species still living today on the island of Sulawesi where the cave is.

Still up for debate: who painted it? Not the individual who painted it — we’ll never know that — but what species painted it.

Human skeletal remains as old as 45,500 years have never been found in Sulawesi, so it is not clear that the artists were anatomically modern humans. The islands that are now called Indonesia were inhabited by different hominins — the broader family to which humans belong — over long periods of time. Some of these hominin remains date “to over a million years old,” said Rasmi Shoocongdej, an archaeologist at Silpakorn University in Thailand who was not involved in the study.