This finding may throw out long-held beliefs that art originated in Europe

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This painting of a wild pig in the Leang Tedongnge cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi is thought to be the oldest representational art in the world. Photo by Adhi Agus Oktaviana.
This painting of a wild pig in the Leang Tedongnge cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi is thought to be the oldest representational art in the world. Photo by Adhi Agus Oktaviana.
  • Archaeologists discovered a cave painting that is more than 45 500 years old. 
  • The cave and its paintings were discovered by a Griffith University PhD student, archaeologist Bastan Burhan who trekked over mountains through a rough forest path to find them.
  • Its discovery may throw out long-held beliefs that art originated in Europe. 


Last week Science Advances published its findings on what archaeologists are referring to as the world’s oldest piece of visual art. 

Found in Sulawesi (an Indonesian island) were three wild pigs painted on a limestone cave. Through Uranium-series dating, researchers found that the work dated back to at least 45, 500 years ago. 

Made with red ochre pigment, the work in the Leang Tedongnge cave is said to be depicting a scene where two Sulawesi warty pigs are fighting. The two pigs engaged in combat are damaged while the bystanding pig is nearly pristine. 

“These are small native pigs that are endemic to Sulawesi and are still found on the island, although in ever-dwindling numbers,” Adam Brumm told Smithsonian. “The common portrayal of these warty pigs in the Ice Age rock art also offers hints at the deep symbolic significance and perhaps spiritual value of Sulawesi warty pigs in the ancient hunting culture.” Coming form Griffith University in Australia, Brum is the article’s lead author.

In a separate interview with NewScientist, Brumm said he was struck dumb by the finding. “It’s one of the most spectacular and well-preserved figurative animal paintings known from the whole region, and it just immediately blew me away.

The cave and its paintings were discovered by a Griffith University PhD student, archaeologist Bastan Burhan in December 2017. To get there Burhan has to wait for a dry season and trek over mountains through a rough forest path. 

On why the finding has been considered the oldest conceptual artwork, archaeologist Maxime Aubert, one of the paper’s co-authors, told National Geographic how “it depends on what definition of ‘art’ you use.”

For those who perceive the findings as art, it questions long-held beliefs that art originated in Europe at sites like the El Castillo can in Spain or the Chauvet cave in France because these works are respectively from 35 000 to 40 000 years ago. 

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