In the Western imagination, ancient cave paintings tend to conjure images of Lascaux, the cave complex in southwestern France that is famous for its exceptionally detailed depictions of humans and animals. The Lascaux paintings, however, are a mere 17,000 years old.
The oldest known examples of figurative art, or imagery that shows more than just abstractions, occur in Southeast Asia. Now a painting of pigs discovered in a cave in Indonesia sets a new record for the earliest figurative art—at least 45,500 years old—according to research published on Wednesday in Science Advances.
Dated pig painting at Leang Tedongnge site in Indonesia. Credit: Maxime Aubert
Sulawesi, an Indonesian island east of Borneo where the latest painting was found, is a treasure trove for rock art. Since researchers began working there 70 years ago, they have confirmed around 300 caves containing imagery.
In late 2019, Aubert and his colleagues dated a Sulawesi cave painting depicting a hunting scene to at least 43,900 years ago—the oldest known painting in the region at the time.