Notable: Ancient rock art from Sulawesi

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Notable paper: Aubert M, Brumm A, Ramli M, Sutikna T, Saptomo EW, Hakim B, Morwood MJ, van den Burgh GD, Kinsley L, Dosseto A. (2014). Pleistocene cave art from Sulawesi, Indonesia. Nature 514:223-227. doi:10.1038/nature13422

Synopsis: The paper is mostly devoted to providing date estimates for the formation of speleothems, in this case “cave popcorn” deposits of calcite that have formed on surfaces that bear rock art. The authors show that many examples of rock art are Paleolithic in age, and paintings from at least three sites are more than 35,000 years old – making these older than Chauvet Cave in France, the oldest example of figurative art in Europe. The oldest date for the Sulawesi rock art is 46,000 years ago, from Leang Barugayya 2.

Important because: The paper provides a second dot on the map of representational art before 30,000 years ago.The rock art from this area of Sulawesi was first noted by prehistorians more than 50 years ago. In southwestern Europe, rock art specialists have worked hard to develop a chronology of cave art based on chronology, but really that effort depends on assumptions about cultural groups that we cannot generally justify – and rock art far from Europe could never fit into a European chronology. The appearance of new methods of dating the overlying speleothems has helped to open the science.


Figure 2 from Aubert et al, showing babirusa

Figure 2a from Aubert et al. 2014. The animal form is interpreted as a babirusa. I have not reproduced part b of the figure with the tracing of the pictures.