World’s oldest painting unveiled – can you tell what it is?

World’s oldest painting unveiled – can you tell what it is?

The painting is the oldest ever found (Picture: EPA/BRIN)

The world’s oldest artwork has been discovered on the ceiling of an Indonesian island cave – but can you tell what the images are? 

The artwork has been confidently dated back to 51,200 years ago and was found in the Leang Karampuang limestone cave in the Maros-Pangkep region of South Sulawesi. 

This makes it more than 5,000 years older than the previous oldest cave art and pushes back the timeline that modern humans first showed the capacity for creative thought.

The researchers said that the discovery is also the oldest-known evidence of storytelling in art, and have interpreted the painting as a narrative scene.

So what is it? 

The researchers said that the painting is three human-like figures around a wild pig. 

Can you pick out the figures? (Picture: EPA/BRIN)

The pig is 92cm by 38cm, and is standing still with its mouth partly open with at least three human-like figures around it. 

The largest human figure has both arms extended and appears to be holding a rod. The second is immediately in front of the pig with its head next to its snout and also seems to be holding a stick, with one end possibly in contact with the pig’s throat.

The last human-like figure seems to be upside-down with its legs facing up. It has one hand reaching towards and is seemingly touching the pig’s head.

Co-author Dr Adam Brumm said: ‘Our discovery suggests that storytelling was a much older part of human history… than previously thought.

‘The three human-like figures and the pig figure were clearly not depicted in isolation in separate parts of the rock art panel. 

Did you find them? (Picture: EPA/BRIN)

‘Rather, the juxtaposition of the figures – how they are positioned in relation to each other – and the manner in which they are interacting were clearly deliberate, and it conveys an unmistakable sense of action.

‘There is something happening between these figures. A story is being told. Obviously, we don’t know what that story was.’

Humans evolved around 300,000 years ago, and images using simple lines and patterns have been dated back to around 100,000 years, but this is the world’s oldest narrative art.

The researchers published their findings in the journal Nature.

To determine the age of the painting, the researchers used a new laser technique to date crystallised calcium carbonate that formed naturally on top of the painting. 

The laser allowed the researchers to create detailed maps of calcium carbonate layers and look for any physical and chemical changes in the sediments. 

What was the previous record holder for the oldest painting?

The oldest painted pig (Picture: Griffith University)

The previous record holder was a lifesize picture of a wild pig believed to be created at least 45,500 years ago in a cave in Leang Tedongnge, also on Sulawesi in Indonesia.

The painting was discovered in 2021, and measures 136cm by 54cm. The pig was painted using dark red ochre pigment and has a short crest of upright hair, as well as a pair of horn-like facial warts characteristic of adult males of the species.

The team that discovered the painting was led by Adhi Agus Oktaviana, an Indonesian rock art specialist from the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) in Jakarta and a PhD student.

He said that narrative storytelling was a crucial part of early human culture in Indonesia from a very early point in time, but the findings were still unexpected. 

‘Our results are very surprising,’ he said. ‘None of the famous European Ice Age art is anywhere near as old as this, with the exception of some controversial finds in Spain, and this is the first-time rock art dates in Indonesia have ever been pushed beyond the 50,000-year mark.’

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