This painted pig is the world’s oldest figurative art

Color photo of stylized pig painted in red on a rock wall

Enlarge (credit: Brumm et al. 2021)

A pig painted on the wall of an Indonesian cave is the world’s oldest figurative art—that is, it’s the oldest known drawing of something,

rather than an abstract design or a stencil.

The 45,500-year-old ocher painting depicts a Sulawesi warty pig, which appears to be watching a standoff between two other pigs. If that interpretation is correct, the painting is also a contender for the world’s oldest narrative scene. And it hints at how much the earliest Indonesians observed and recorded about the animals and ecosystems around them. A growing pile of evidence tells us that the first people to reach the islands of Indonesia carried with them a culture of art and visual storytelling, as well as the means to cross the expanses of water between the islands, eventually reaching Australia.

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South Asia now has the oldest evidence of bows and arrows outside Africa

South Asia now has the oldest evidence of bows and arrows outside Africa

Enlarge (credit: Langley et al. 2020)

For more than 100,000 years, the earliest humans hunted Pleistocene megafauna with wooden throwing spears. But by at least 64,000 years ago, people in Africa had invented a deadly new way to hunt: the bow and arrow. Bows and arrows eventually became a staple of hunting and warfare for cultures on five continents, but we’re not sure exactly when or how that Paleolithic weapons proliferation took place.

Archaeologist Michelle Langley and her colleagues recently found an important clue in a Sri Lankan cave called Fa-Thien Lena: 130 bone arrowheads, dating to around 48,000 years ago. The discovery is the oldest evidence of bows and arrows ever found outside Africa. And it hints at how people adapted to survival in challenging new environments like the Arctic of Siberia, the high altitudes of Tibet, and tropical forests in Africa, Asia, and Melanesia. The invention of new technologies like this helped give Homo sapiens the edge we needed to conquer the world.

“There are a number of ways that bow-and-arrow technology could have got to Sri Lanka,” Griffith University Langley told Ars. “It could have been brought from Africa with a traveling population. It could have been independently innovated in Sri Lanka. Or it could have been innovated in Africa (or elsewhere) and then brought along trade routes or social networks by word of mouth or an example being brought along. At the moment, we have no idea which!”

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