Helen Thompson at Smithsonian Magazine:
Modern critics would probably hail the up and coming rock artists that once inhabited Indonesia. About a hundred caves outside Moras, a town in the tropical forests of Sulawesi, were once lined with hand stencils and vibrant murals of abstract pigs and dwarf buffalo. Today only fragments of the artwork remain, and the mysterious artists are long gone.
For now, all we know is when the caves were painted—or at least ballpark dates—and the finding suggests that the practice of lining cave walls with pictures of natural life was common 40,000 years ago. A study published today in Nature suggests that paintings in the Maros-Pangkep caves range from 17,400 to 39,900 years old, close to the age of similar artwork found on the walls of caves in Europe.
“It provides a new view about modern human origins, about when we became cognitively modern,” says Maxime Aubert, an archaeologist at Griffith University in Australia. “It changes the when and the where of our species becoming self-aware and starting to think abstractly, to paint and to carve figurines.”