Research ArticleANTHROPOLOGY

Oldest cave art found in Sulawesi

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Science Advances  13 Jan 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 3, eabd4648
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abd4648


  • Fig. 1 South Sulawesi study area.

    (A) The rock art sites under study are all situated in limestone karst areas in the island’s southwestern peninsula [see (B) for detail of area shown inside the rectangle]. (B) Locations of limestone caves or shelters discussed in the study: 1, Leang Tedongnge; 2, Leang Timpuseng; 3, Leang Barugayya 2; 4, Leang Bulu’ Sipong 4; 5, Gua Uhallie; 6, Leang Balangajia 1; 7, Leang Bulu Bettue; and 8, Leang Burung 2. Map data: Shuttle Radar Topography Mission 1 Arc-Second Global by NASA/NGS/USGS and GEBCO_2014 Grid version 20150318 ( Base maps were created by M. Kottermair and A. Jalandoni.

  • Fig. 2 Figurative paintings of pigs at Leang Tedongnge.

    (A and B) Leang Tedongnge cave. The cave is located at the foot of a limestone karst hill (A); the cave mouth entrance is shown in (B). (C) Plan and section of Leang Tedongnge site. Rock art panel 10 (P10) is located on a ledge toward the rear of the cave and features at least three large figurative paintings of pigs. (D and E) Details of rock art panel 10 showing pigs 1 to 3. Dimensions: pig 1 (136 cm by 54 cm), pig 2 (125 cm by 53 cm), and pig 3 (138 cm by 71 cm). A fourth animal figure (probably a depiction of a pig and hence provisionally denoted pig 4) was present but is too heavily exfoliated for analysis. (D) Stitched panorama view of panel 10 after enhancing with the Decorrelation Stretch (DStretch) computer program (44) (channel setting: _lds; LDS colorspace). (E) Tracings of pigs 1 to 3. Pig 3 was painted using two different colors; possibly, but not certainly, with a time lapse between these painting episodes. Photo credits: A. A. Oktaviana, ARKENAS/Griffith University.

  • Fig. 3 Dated pig figure (pig 1) in the rock art panel at Leang Tedongnge.

    (A) Digital tracing of the rock art panel (P10). (B) Pig 1. (C) Detail of the head area of pig 1 [enhanced using the Decorrelation Stretch (DStretch) computer program (44); channel setting: _ac_lab; AC, auto contrast and LAB color space]. HC, head crest; FW, preorbital facial warts. Pig 1 displays an unidentified morphological feature, a pair of teat-like protuberances in the lower neck area; these are highlighted by white arrows in (C). Photo credits: A. A. Oktaviana, ARKENAS/Griffith University.

  • Fig. 4 Dated painting of a pig at Leang Balangajia 1.

    (A and B) Leang Balangajia 1 cave. The cave is located in the upper karst network of a limestone hill (A); the cave entrance [concealed by dense vegetation in (A)] is shown in the photostitched panorama in (B). (C) Plan and section of Leang Balangajia 1 (the red star shows the location of the dated pig figure). (D and E) Dated artwork, a large red outline profile painting of a pig. (D) Photograph enhanced using the Decorrelation Stretch (DStretch) computer program (44) (channel setting: _ac_cb_lds; AC; CB, auto image color balance; and LDS color space). (E) Tracing (gray shading indicates exfoliated areas of the panel). The pig figure is 187 cm in length and 110 cm in height. FW, preorbital facial warts, a diagnostic characteristic of S. celebensis; HC, head crest. Four hand stencils (darker in color) are superimposed on the pig. The pig figure displays an unidentified morphological feature, a pair of hairy teat-like protuberances in the lower neck area [highlighted by arrows in (D) and (C)]. Photo credits: A. A. Oktaviana, ARKENAS/Griffith University.

  • Fig. 5 U-series dating of the pig figure (pig 1) at Leang Tedongnge.

    (A) Sample LTed3 comprises a coralloid speleothem overlying the figure’s rear foot. (B to D) Sample LTed3 overlying red pigment of the foot. (E) Underside of sample LTed3 after removal from the rock art panel; clearly visible is the red pigment of the paint layer adhering to the base of the coralloid speleothem. (F to G) Schematic diagrams of sample removal and dating. (F) Sampled coralloid speleothem (LTed3) formed on top of the paint layer corresponding to the rear foot of the pig. (G) When removed, the sampled coralloid speleothem (LTed3) took the underlying paint layer with it affixed to the base (see Materials and Methods). U-series isotope analysis was conducted on four micromilled subsamples (green dotted lines); one aliquot was collected from immediately below the pigment layer (LTed3.1), and the remaining three aliquots (LTed3.2, LTed3.3, and LTed3.4) came from progressively higher levels above (i.e., on top of) the pigment layer. SE, secular equilibrium. Uncertainties reported at 2σ. Our results indicate a minimum U-series age of 45.5 ka for this figurative image of a suid at Leang Tedongnge. Photo credits: M. Aubert, Griffith University.

  • Fig. 6 U-series dating of the red pig figure at Leang Balangajia 1.

    U-series isotope analysis was conducted on two small coralloid speleothems (samples LBLGJ1 and LBLGJ2) overlying the large red pig painting (A) and an overlying purple/mulberry hand stencil (A), respectively. The photograph in (A) has been enhanced using the Decorrelation Stretch (DStretch) computer program (44) (channel setting: _ac_cb_lds; AC, CB, and LDS color space). Samples LBLGJ1 (~150 mm2) and LBLGJ2 (~100 mm2) are shown in situ in (B) and (C), respectively; cross sections with U-series dating results are shown in (D) and (E). Subsamples LBLGJ1.4 (D) and LBLGJ2.5 (E) were both collected below the pigment lines and thus provide maximum ages for the artworks. Uncertainties reported at 2σ. Our dating results indicate that the suid figure was painted between 73.4 and 32 ka. Photo credits: (A) A. A. Oktaviana, ARKENAS/Griffith University; (B to E) M. Aubert, Griffith University.


  • Table 1 U-series dating results.

    U-series dating results for Leang Tedongnge (LTed3) and Leang Balangajia 1 (LBLGJ1 and LBLGJ2). U-Th isotope ratios are activity ratios. ppm, parts per million.

    age (ka)
    age (ka)
    LTed3.4Sequence of
    1.613.33550.1841 ± 0.00100.5665 ± 0.001145.530.3645.440.360.5070 ± 0.0016
    LTed3.3Sequence of
    1.52.1570.1878 ± 0.00250.5645 ± 0.001846.990.8646.400.940.5022 ± 0.0028
    LTed3.2Overlies animal
    1.52.1370.1836 ± 0.00290.5717 ± 0.001844.740.9643.881.100.5133 ± 0.0030
    animal figure
    1.11.41370.9229 ± 0.00750.9247 ± 0.0027SE
    LBLGJ1.1Sequence of
    5.62.373540.2848 ± 0.00150.982 ± 0.001137.390.2437.320.240.9800 ± 0.0013
    LBLGJ1.2Sequence of
    5.63.035870.2348 ± 0.00080.9819 ± 0.000529.830.1129.790.110.9803 ± 0.0006
    LBLGJ1.3Overlies animal
    5.72.176130.2318 ± 0.00100.9791 ± 0.001129.490.1529.450.150.9773 ± 0.0012
    animal figure
    5.71.713010.5173 ± 0.00180.9787 ± 0.001282.290.4582.130.460.9731 ± 0.0016
    LBLGJ2.1Sequence of
    6.02.444600.2376 ± 0.00100.9733 ± 0.001130.560.1630.510.160.9709 ± 0.0012
    LBLGJ2.2Sequence of
    5.61.813550.2373 ± 0.00110.9710 ± 0.001230.600.1730.540.170.9684 ± 0.0013
    LBLGJ2.3Sequence of
    5.21.664760.2262 ± 0.00150.9697 ± 0.001429.010.2228.960.220.9671 ± 0.0016
    LBLGJ2.4Overlies hand
    5.31.633600.2497 ± 0.00150.9736 ± 0.001032.360.2332.290.240.9711 ± 0.0011
    LBLGJ2.5Underlies hand
    1.01.521730.4743 ± 0.00330.9756 ± 0.003072.870.8172.610.820.97 ± 0.0038

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