According to Australian archaeologists, a 43,900-year-old rock painting in Indonesia is the oldest illustration ever made by humans. The researchers describe the find on the island of Sulawesi in the scientific journal Nature .
The image of dark red pigment shows eight people with external characteristics of animals, while they hunt six prey animals, such as wild pigs and dwarf buffalo (anoas). These human animals are also called theriantropies, referred to as 'Ther' in the illustration .
The image is 4.5 meters wide and is chalked on a wall in the cave Leang Bulu Sipong 4. This limestone cave is located in the area of Maros-Pangkep, where a handprint of 39,900 years old was discovered earlier.
According to archaeologists, the illustration depicts a hunting party. The characters in the drawing probably have spears and ropes with them. The drawing probably shows how hunters drive animals out of their hiding places to trap them.
Meaning of animal people still unclear
Why the prehistoric inhabitants of Indonesia depicted human-like animals or animal people is not yet clear. It is possible that hunters wore animal skins or masks to disguise themselves, the archaeologists say.
However, there are also people with the external characteristics of smaller animals such as birds. It seems to the researchers unlikely that hunters disguised themselves as such animals at the time.
This may indicate that it is not an image of real people and that the print may have more spiritual meaning. Possibly animal spirits have been depicted to help people. The work can also symbolize how people see themselves as part of the animal kingdom.
People with animal characteristics are common in ancient folk tales, such as the Egyptian god Anubis with his bird's head or the Greek minotaur with the head and tail of a bull. Rock paintings in the French caves of Lascaux, for example, also show a 'bird man'.