Discovered: 40,000 Year-Old Cave Art Hunting Scene

Six humanoid figures with animal features surround an anoa, a small type of buffalo, in a 44,000-year-old Indonesian cave mural. (Ratno Sardi)

Newly Discovered Indonesian Cave Art May Represent World’s Oldest Known Hunting Scene

by Katherine J. Wu/

Deep in the bowels of a cave system on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, in a dim chamber accessible only to the most intrepid of spelunkers, lies a red-tinted painting depicting what appears to be a vivid hunt or ritual. In the scene, two wild pigs and four anoas, or dwarf buffaloes, scurry about as their apparent pursuers—mythical, humanoid figures sporting animal features like snouts, beaks and tails—give chase, armed with rope- and spear-like weapons.

Though its pigment is faded and its rocky canvas chipped, the mural is a breathtaking work of art that hints at the sophistication of its creators. And, at an estimated 44,000 years old, the work is poised to help researchers rewrite the history of visual storytelling, according to a study published yesterday in the journal Nature.

If this date is correct, the newly discovered cave painting represents the oldest known example of a story told through art, predating comparable murals previously found in Europe. The findings offer a new understanding of when and where modern humans first acquired the self-awareness and creativity needed to translate life forms and objects from the real world into the abstract.

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