Researchers uncover prehistoric art and ornaments from Indonesian ‘Ice Age’
Griffith University archaeologists Associate Professor Adam Brumm, who with Indonesian colleagues led the excavations that yielded the new findings, and Dr Michelle Langley, who analysed the recovered ornaments and art objects.
|Excavations at the limestone cave of Leang Bulu Bettue on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi |
[Credit: Justin Mott]
The Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution (ARCHE) team, based in Griffith’s Environmental Futures Research Institute, together with Indonesian colleagues, have shed new light on ‘Ice Age’ human culture and symbolism in a paper published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Scientists have long been curious about the cultural lives of the first Homo sapiens to inhabit the lands to the immediate north of Australia sometime prior to 50,000 years ago — part of the great movement of our species out of Africa,” Associate Professor Brumm says.
|Prehistoric ornaments excavated from the Sulawesi cave site Leang Bulu Bettue [Credit: Michelle Langley/Adam Brumm/Bear/Luke Marsden]|
Adding to the 2014 breakthrough discovery of 40,000-year-old cave art on the Wallacean island of Sulawesi, which is said to be some of the world’s oldest, is a unique assemblage of previously unknown symbolic objects excavated from a Sulawesi cave site called Leang Bulu Bettue.
|Hollow bone tube with red and black pigments, made from the long bone of a bear cuscus, |
may have been used as an ‘air-brush’ to create human hand stencils on rock surfaces
[Credit: Michelle Langley]
Dr Langley’s analysis also revealed extensive evidence for rock art production at the site, including discarded ochre pieces, ochre stains on tools, and a bone tube that may have been a ‘blow-pipe’ for creating hand stencil motifs, the earliest of which date to at least 40,000 years ago on Sulawesi.
|Hand stencils may have been created using pigments and a bone 'air-brush' |
[Credit: Yinika Perston]
“It was also unknown if or how Sulawesi cave artists adorned their bodies or whether their artistic repertoire even extended beyond rock paintings. Our understanding of the symbolic lives of these people is now much richer.”
|Wallacea, the zone of oceanic islands positioned east of the Wallace Line, one of the world’s major biogeographical |
boundaries, and lying between the continental regions of Asia and Australia-New Guinea
[Credit: Adam Brumm]
“Sulawesi, in particular, is renowned among biogeographers for its extremely high rate of species endemism – essentially all of the island’s land mammals, except for bats, occur nowhere else on earth,” Associate Professor Brumm says.
“The discovery of ornaments manufactured from the bones and teeth of two of Sulawesi’s flagship endemics – babirusas and bear cuscuses – and a previously recorded painting of a babirusa dated to at least 35,400 years ago, shows that humans were drawn to these dramatically new faunal species. This may indicate that the conceptual world of these people changed to incorporate exotic animals.”
The researchers think that this ‘symbolic negotiation’ with novel species might have been fundamental to the later settlement of Australia, which harboured unprecedentedly rich communities of endemic faunas and floras.
They speculate that the human journey through the biogeographically unique zone of Wallacea might have prompted new ways of thinking about the natural world, suggesting elements of the complex human-animal spiritual relationships that define Aboriginal cultures may actually pre-date the initial colonization of Australia.
The work reported in PNAS was conducted in collaboration with scientists from a range of Indonesian academic institutes, including the National Research Centre for Archaeology (ARKENAS), as well as a large team of Sulawesi-based archaeologists. Other Griffith University scientists involved were Associate Professor Maxime Aubert, Dr Jillian Huntley and Professor Rainer Grün. Associate Professor Aubert and Dr Huntley are also members of members of the Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit (PERAHU) within the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research.
Source: Griffith University [April 04, 2017]