World’s Oldest Cave Art is vanishing amid Climate Change
Human history is filled with many wonders and ancient cave art is one of such wonders. However, a study has found that the world’s oldest cave art – including Indonesian rock art – is vanishing at an alarming rate due to climate change.
A team of Australian and Indonesian researchers discovered that increased temperatures and other extreme weather changes – such as continued dry days and heavy monsoons – have increased the buildup of salts within the cave systems that house the rock art.
Published in the journal Scientific Reports, the study said that the equatorial tropics have some of the oldest known rock art and it is weathering at a worrying pace. This includes a picture of a wild pig drawn over 45,500 years ago on the island of Sulawesi, which is said to be the world’s oldest animal cave painting.
The island of Sulawesi is home to cave art features depictions of animals, mixed human and animal figures, and hand stencils drawn in red and mulberry pigments.
There are other cave motifs in the region that depict hunting scenes and supernatural beings. Unfortunately, these ancient works are crumbling as the global temperature rises. The findings of the study indicate that more needs to be done to protect priceless art.
According to Jillian Huntley, who led the study,
These pieces of art are disappearing before our eyes. I was gobsmacked by how prevalent the destructive salt crystals and their chemistry were on the rock art panels, some of which we know to be more than 40,000 years old. We urgently need further rock art and conservation research to have the best chance of preserving the Pleistocene cave paintings of Indonesia.
With varying environmental heating and cooling, the salts swell and shrink. On hot days, geological salts can grow to over three times their size. These salt crystals grow on top of and behind the rock art and can cause parts of the pictures to peel off the cave walls.
The study also said that over the past four centuries at least the Maros-Pangkep rock art has increasingly deteriorated. In the last 40 years, erosion has rapidly accelerated due to human-induced climate change.
Sadly, the degradation of precious rock art is likely to worsen with the rising temperatures. The life-sized picture of the Sulawesi warty pig seems to be part of a story scene found in the Leang Tedongnge cave in a remote valley on the island of Sulawesi.
This picture provides the earliest evidence of human settlement of the region. It is the world’s oldest art depicting a figure; however, it is not the oldest human-produced art. In South Africa, a hashtag-like doodle created some 73,000 years ago is believed to be the oldest known drawing!