Early human symbolic behavior in the Late Pleistocene of Wallacea

Research Highlight

Cave art proof of Stone Age islanders’ sophistication

© Roco Roldn/EyeEm/Getty

© Roco Roldn/EyeEm/Getty

Cave excavations suggest that Stone Age humans who ventured into a group of islands separating continental South Asia from Australia developed forms of creative expression as diverse and unique as the region’s fauna and flora.

An international team, including researchers from Australia’s University of Wollongong, found evidence of artwork in a cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. The artefacts were found in a layer of soil 22,000 to 30,000 years old.

The team found ornamental beads made from Babirusa teeth, a pendant made of bear bone, stone artefacts with pigmented abstract lines, and extensive amounts of pigmented clay, along with evidence of its use as paint.

Some scholars have argued that the scarcity of these types of finds indicate that the Stone Age inhabitants of the islands were not as sophisticated as those living elsewhere. However, the team behind the find claim that a lack of intensive research in the region is the reason that not as much has been unearthed, and that these artefacts are proof that these islanders had as strong a culture as those living elsewhere.

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  1. PNAS 114, 4105–4110 (2017). doi: 10.1073/pnas.1619013114
Institutions FC
Balai Arkeologi Sulawesi Selatan, Kementerian Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan Republik Indonesia, Indonesia 0.22
Balai Pelestarian Cagar Budaya Makassar, Kementerian Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan Republik Indonesia, Indonesia 0.11
Centre for Archaeological Science (CAS), UOW, Australia 0.10
National Research and Development Centre for Archaeology, Republic of Indonesia Ministry of Education and Culture, Indonesia 0.09
Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution (ARCHE), Griffith University, Australia 0.07
School of Humanities, UNE, Australia 0.07
Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit (PERAHU), Griffith University, Australia 0.06
Balai Pelestarian Cagar Budaya Jambi, Kementerian Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan Republik Indonesia, Indonesia 0.04
Department of Archaeology, UNHAS, Indonesia 0.04
non-affiliated author contributions, Indonesia 0.04
Museum Kepresidenan Balai Kirti, Kementerian Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan Republik Indonesia, Indonesia 0.04
School of Earth and Environmental Sciences (SEES), UQ, Australia 0.04
The University of Wollongong (UOW), Australia 0.03
School of Earth and Environmental Sciences (SEES), UOW, Australia 0.02
ANU Department of Archaeology and Natural History, Australia 0.02
ANU Research School of Earth Sciences (RSES), Australia 0.02

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