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More on Scientists find 10,000-year-old stone carvings in East Timor

AN AUSTRALIAN scientist searching for the fossilised bones of giant rats in a cave in East Timor has discovered ancient stone carvings of human faces, the first found on the island.

Timor_carvingsOne of the faces, which has sunbeam-like rays coming out of it, has been dated at 10,000 to 12,000 years old.

A CSIRO researcher and rat expert, Ken Aplin, said he was on the rocky floor of Lene Hara Cave, when he looked up and light from his head torch glanced across its dark wall, revealing the strange images.

''Just by chance, being down at the right angle, I could see the old weathered engravings on that surface,'' Dr Aplin said.

Different groups of researchers have carried out excavations in the cave since the 1960s but had never noticed the carvings.

Dr Aplin said the landowners, who often accompany scientists to perform rituals in the cave, were also shocked by the find.

''They were totally unaware that the engravings were there,'' he said. ''And they, in fact, decided the faces had revealed themselves on that day as an indication that the ancestral spirits were actually happy with the research.''

Sue O'Connor, an archaeologist at the Australian National University, said her team's excavations in the cave during the past decade had uncovered shellfish, animals bones, and stone tools dating back 35,000 years.

The cave also contains wall paintings, mostly in red ochre, of boats, animals, human figures and hand stencils.

Professor O'Connor said the carvings of human faces were an important find because they were the only such petroglyphs found in Timor, and the only rock art in the islands of south-east Asia that dated back to this period.

She said the faces were larger than life. ''Perhaps they were gods, or representations of very important people,'' said Professor O'Connor, who is the lead author of a study of the carvings, published in the journal Antiquity.

Dr Aplin's excavations on Timor have also uncovered the remains of the biggest rat ever known to have lived, weighing about six kilograms and surviving until 1000 to 2000 years ago.

Author: Deborah Smith | Source: The Sydney Morning Herald [February 14, 2011]


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