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  • The composition includes two wild boars and four dwarf buffalo around which up to eight much smaller figures that look human.

    The composition includes two wild boars and four dwarf buffalo around which up to eight much smaller figures that look human. | Photo: El Pais

Published 11 December 2019 (8 hours 43 minutes ago)
Opinion

Experts think that all the figures, in the four meters long canvas of rock, were made at the same time and therefore make up the narration of a story, "the oldest example of narrative work and perhaps spirituality."

Two years after the discovery of an unknown cave on a cliff on the island of Sulawesi (Sulawesi, in the vernacular), in Indonesia, a group of scientists concluded that the founded hunting scene painted 43,900 years ago, may be the oldest figurative work of art in the world.

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Experts think that all the figures, in the four meters long canvas of rock, were made at the same time and therefore make up the narration of a story. Archaeologist Adam Brumm, of Griffith University (Australia) and co-author of the finding, says that it can be “the oldest example of narrative work and perhaps spirituality.”

The composition includes two wild boars and four dwarf buffalo around which up to eight much smaller figures that look human. Some of them seem to stalk their prey with spears or ropes.

So far, more than 200 caves and shelters with cave paintings have been found on the Indonesian island. According to Brumm, every year his team finds dozens of new cave paintings with images of all kinds. Still, historic researchers don’t want to replace one center of origin with another in Southeast Asia, yet it is very interesting to find rock art much older than European tracks.

The oldest paintings in history, found in several caves in Indonesia: 43,900 years 

"This forces us to wonder if modern humans developed artistic ability when they left Africa [about 70,000 years ago]," he adds. The first evidence of human drawing is attributed to Homo erectus, a possible ancestor of today's humans who was the first to leave Africa. This was found on the island of Java.

"We may be admiring the first metaphor of prehistory" 

Last year, the oldest cave painting in Europe was presented, a kind of staircase painted in the cave of La Pasiega (Cantabria) by Neanderthals about 65,000 years ago. And also in 2018, the first drawing of Homo sapiens was presented, schematic stripes made in South Africa 73,000 years ago.

María Martinón-Torres, director of the National Center for Research on Human Evolution, explains that conception of the world for this men was not restricted to the natural, but also had some religious, magical or superstitious, and especially if it is intertwined with what could be considered normal life: “it seems touching to find the deep roots of something that is as genuinely human as the ability to tell stories. Even if what they intended only with these figures was to remember a past feat, to praise the bravery or bravery of some hunters attributing superhuman abilities, it is wonderful to think that we may be admiring the first metaphor of prehistory.”

On the other hand, a prehistorian for the Complutense University, Marcos García Diez states that this study could be a paradigm shift. “Until very recently we thought that the explosion of art happened in Europe with the arrival of Homo sapiens, but this discovery forces us to erase that idea, artistic expression probably occurred all over the world at the same time and that is why we are finding it in more and more places.”

Although there is controversy behind the investigations around the possibility that the frescoes could have been made at the same time or at a later stage. It is likely that “as the discoverers say, all the paintings were made at the same time and therefore compose a scene, but it is impossible to rule out that it is the opposite and we are facing two paintings made at different times", explains Joseba Rios, Cenieh researcher.

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