The world's oldest artwork, a 45,500-year-old cave painting of a pig in Sulawesi

This picture released on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019 by France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), taken around last year shows the back of a limestone overhang in South Sulawesi — among rock shelters where rock art has been discovered… But it isn’t just an art-historical marvel: this game-changing discovery shows us a whole lot about the way that our ancient ancestors lived and existed. This article digs into the specifics of this discovery, its ramifications and an epic wow-inducing story about ancient art.

The Discovery

The 4.5-metre artwork, which is one of the oldest known to man at around a staggering 45,000-years-old or more, was found in South Sulawesi’s Leang Tedongnge Cave and depicts pigs using dark red ochre pigment that would have been sprayed from airbrushes made out of hollowed bones. The piece, an elaborate image of a steppe bison, was conservatively determined to be 15-20 thousand years older than any other known and believed human-hewn create work. The researchers, from Griffith University in Australia and the National Research Centre for Archaeology (ARKENAS) at Indonesia discovered the painting.

This finding was the result of a broader project to study prehistoric art in this part of the world. A Natural Pigment Called Red Ochre From A wdbos Cave Painting: Humans have used red ochre for tens of thousands of years. The elaborate nature of the pig shows not just artistic skill used in other contexts, but knowledge that was required to convey unfamiliar species they readers may need a mental image for.

The limestone overhang in South Sulawesi where the ancient cave painting was discovered

The Significance of the Find

This find is huge for a number of reasons. For one thing, it would move the onset of known human art-making back by several thousand years. The world’s oldest known art is a series of hand stencils in the same region as this site, at least 40,000 years old. The age of the pig painting makes it among the earliest known animal paintings in cave art, and predates these by 5,500 years or more suggesting that early humans could plan and design artistic work well before previously thought.

Second, the art provides insight into Southeast Asia’s ancient inhabitants Also testified by the depiction of a wild pig,one that was surely an important part in their local fauna and as such it maybe means these first artists were not just watching but also appreciating and documenting animals that had importance to them. The skill demonstrates a cognitive development and cultural complexity hitherto underestimated in this period.

Techniques and Analysis

The artist created the work by employing a method common in prehistoric art, using red ochre to paint it. There is proof of natural pigments, such as ochre usage in different ancient sites all over the world. The selection of red ochre is particularly meaningful, as it implies a finesse in the choice and utilization of art supplies.

The researchers used a technique known as uranium-series dating to date the artwork. It involves looking at the calcite deposits that have appeared on top of the painting through thousands of years. Using these deposits too establish the age, scientists can thus set an approximate lower limit for how old the artwork underneath must be. Uranium-series dating of the Sulawesi cave painting indicated that it is a minimum of 45,500 years old.

Oldest Artwork: Implications for Human History

The discovery of the world’s oldest artwork has profound implications for our understanding of human history. It challenges the Eurocentric perspective that has long dominated the study of prehistoric art, which traditionally focused on the cave paintings of Europe, such as those found in Lascaux and Chauvet in France and Altamira in Spain. The Indonesian find underscores the global nature of early human artistic endeavors and highlights Southeast Asia as a significant center of prehistoric culture.

Moreover, the artwork provides evidence of symbolic thinking and communication among early humans. The ability to create representational art requires not only technical skill but also abstract thinking and the capacity to convey meaning through images. This suggests that the cognitive abilities of early humans in this region were highly developed, comparable to those of their contemporaries in other parts of the world.

Close-up of the red ochre pigments used in the Sulawesi cave painting

The Cultural Context

Understanding the cultural context of the artwork is essential to appreciate its full significance. The depiction of the wild pig, a species that still exists in the region today, indicates that these early humans had a deep connection with their natural environment. The pig likely held symbolic or practical significance, perhaps related to hunting practices, spiritual beliefs, or social structures.

The discovery also hints at the existence of a rich tradition of storytelling and visual communication. Artworks like the Sulawesi pig painting would have played a role in the transmission of knowledge and cultural values within early human communities. They might have been used to teach younger generations about the animals they hunted, the landscapes they inhabited, and the stories that defined their existence.

Future Research and Exploration

The discovery of the Sulawesi cave painting opens new avenues for research and exploration. Archaeologists and historians are now more eager than ever to explore other caves in the region and beyond, hoping to uncover more examples of ancient artwork. Each new find has the potential to further expand our understanding of early human life and creativity.

Future research will likely focus on uncovering additional artworks, as well as investigating the broader cultural and environmental context of these early artistic expressions. By combining archaeological evidence with advances in dating techniques and analysis, scientists can piece together a more comprehensive picture of the lives and cultures of our ancient ancestors.

Researchers examining the ancient cave painting in Leang Tedongnge Cave, Sulawesi


The discovery of the world’s oldest artwork in an Indonesian cave is a monumental achievement in the field of archaeology and human history. It not only sets a new benchmark for the age of known human artwork but also enriches our understanding of the cognitive and cultural development of early humans. The detailed depiction of a wild pig, created with red ochre over 45,500 years ago, stands as a testament to the timeless human impulse to create, communicate, and connect with the world through art.

As researchers continue to explore the depths of ancient caves and the stories they hold, each new discovery brings us closer to understanding the rich tapestry of human history. The Sulawesi cave painting is more than just an ancient artwork; it is a window into the minds and lives of our distant ancestors, offering a profound connection to our shared past and the enduring legacy of human creativity. If you like reading this article then please consider reading our article about Batman.