Leang Sakapao Caves on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi

Leang Sakapao Caves


  • Researchers have reported that Pleistocene-era rock paintings dating back to 45,000-20,000 years ago in cave sites in southern Sulawesi, on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, are weathering at an alarming rate.

Leang Sakapao Caves

  • A team of Australian and Indonesian archaeological scientists, conservation specialists, and heritage managers examined 11 caves and rock-shelters in the Maros-Pangkep region in Sulawesi. Leang Sakapao Caves
  • The artwork in the area includes what is believed to be the world’s oldest hand stencil (almost 40,000 years ago), created by pressing the hand on a cave wall, and spraying wet red-mulberry pigments over it.
  • A nearby cave features the world’s oldest depiction of an animal, a warty pig painted on the wall 45,500 years ago.
  • The cave art of Sulawesi is much older than the prehistoric cave art of Europe.

Findings of the study

  • The researchers studied flakes of rock that have begun to detach from cave surfaces to find that salts in three of the samples comprise calcium sulphate and sodium chloride, which are known to form crystals on rock surfaces, causing them to break.
  • The artwork made with pigments was decaying due to a process known as haloclasty, which is triggered by the growth of salt crystals due to repeated changes in temperature and humidity, caused by alternating wet and dry weather in the region.
  • Indonesia has also experienced several natural disasters in recent years, which have quickened the process of deterioration.
  • The area is known to be home to over 300 cave paintings, and more are being discovered with further explorations.
  • While many of these have been studied for several decades, it is only recently that accurate dating has been made possible with newer techniques, enriching our knowledge of their cultural and historical significance.
  • With increased rapid environmental degradation, the researchers have recommended regular physical and chemical monitoring of the sites, akin to the preservation efforts at the French and Spanish prehistoric cave art sites such as Lascaux and Altamira.

About Sulawesi

  • Sulawesi is the largest island in Wallacea, a biogeographically distinct zone of oceanic islands situated between continental Asia and Australia. 
  • Sulawesi has a long history of human occupation. The earliest archaeological evidence is from Talepu, a Middle Pleistocene site in the south of the island.
  • The Talepu findings comprise in situ stone artefacts associated with fossils of extinct terrestrial megafauna.
  • In News: Sulawesi, an Indonesian island east of Borneo where the latest painting was found, is a treasure trove for rock art. Since researchers began working there 70 years ago, they have confirmed around 300 caves containing imagery. In late 2019 Aubert and his colleagues dated a Sulawesi cave painting depicting a hunting scene to at least 43,900 years ago—the oldest known painting in the region at the time. The new painting—a series of three to four Sulawesi warty pigs and an outline of human hands—was discovered

Source: Indian Express

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