#AncientPainting; #Indonesia; #EarliestPictorialRecordOfStorytelling; #JournalNature
Indonesia, Dec 12 (Canadian-Media): Revelation of eight therianthropes, or humans with animal characteristics, appearing to chase and kill six animals using what seem to be spears and ropes, found in a cave painting in Indonesia's island of Sulawesi, was considered to be the earliest known pictorial record of storytelling, a study by Australian and Indonesian researchers said which was published on Wednesday in the journal Nature.
A portion of a narrative scene painted on an Indonesian cave wall shows tiny hunters corralling a dwarf buffalo with ropes or spears. Image credit/ Ratno Sardi
"We think of the ability for humans to make a story, a narrative scene, as one of the last steps of human cognition," says the study's lead author, Maxime Aubert, an archaeologist at Griffith University in Nathan, Australia. "This is the oldest rock art in the world and all of the key aspects of modern cognition are there."
"I thought, ‘Wow, it's like a whole scene,’" Aubert said. "You've got humans, or maybe half-human half-animals, hunting or capturing these animals … it was just amazing."
Dozens of caves on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi had been explored for the past 5 years by Aubert and colleagues, and hundreds of hand stencils, cave paintings, red pigment crayons, and carved figurines have been found. Archaeological data is suggestive of fact that the artists came with an early wave of modern humans some 50,000 years ago.
Nicholas Conard, an archaeologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany who wasn't involved in the work, says that scenario makes sense given that every modern human society has its own creative and mythic traditions. "These depictions underline the great antiquity of narratives and storytelling," he says. "It is encouraging to find concrete evidence for narrative depictions at this early date."
The Indonesian cave painting also provided some of the earliest evidence of human spirituality.
"Therianthropes occur in the folklore or narrative fiction of almost every modern society, and they are perceived as gods, spirits, or ancestral beings in many religions worldwide," said Adam Brumm, one of the study's co-authors, an archeologist at Australia's Griffith University.
Until now, the oldest rock art showing a character with the characteristics of an animal had been an ivory sculpture found in a cave in Germany. Thought to date back 40,000 years, it depicts a human body attached to a feline-like head.
The research was done in collaboration with Indonesia's National Research Centre for Archaeology, and scientists from the culture heritage department of Makassar, the provincial capital.
The Griffith researchers said cave art in Sulawesi was first discovered in the 1950s, with at least 242 caves and shelters containing such imagery documented since.
Indonesian rock art expert Adhi Agus Oktaviana, a PhD student at Griffith, said some of the caves had sustained damage that could threaten the art and pointed to threats from salt, dust, peeling, microbes and smoke
"It would be a tragedy if these exceptionally old artworks should disappear in our own lifetime, but it is happening," said Oktaviana.
April Nowell, an archaeologist at the University of Victoria in Canada said these findings should help dispel the outdated and mistaken opinion that humanity first became fully modern in Europe and said,
"We have long known this view is no longer tenable, and the richness of [this and other recent findings] continues to underscore … the importance of the record outside Europe."